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Wishing Those Warts Away

"They have roots that go to the bone."
"Rub them with a potato, then bury it - a sure cure."
"You get warts from touching frogs."

Many myths and misconceptions surround the common wart. The truth is that warts are actually infections of the skin caused by a virus.

The most common locations are the hands, feet, knees and elbows. Because they are caused by a virus, they are contagious and can spread from one location to another on one person, or from person to person via skin contact, or even from shower floors and around swimming pools. Different people have varying susceptibility to developing warts. This explains why some children have many while others never have one.

Warts look like skin colored bumps, usually with rough surfaces. If you look closely enough you may see the tell-tale little black dots within the wart, which are typical of warts. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate a wart from a corn or a callous. Often doctors will pare down these spots and look for pinpoint bleeding which usually indicates a wart is present.

Warts are not dangerous. Left alone, they often resolve on their own. This may take years however, and they can spread or cause pain in the interim.

Fortunately, treatment is available. Unfortunately though, the wart virus is very stubborn and treatment requires repeated applications and patience.

Warts are superficial and do not extend to the bone as many believe. Therefore, it is extremely rare that they need to be cut out. Instead, diligent use of an over-the-counter wart treatment containing salicylic acid, which removes the upper layers of skin, or application of liquid nitrogen in your doctor's office, will often speed the resolution of the wart. These treatments can be somewhat painful however and many children do not tolerate them. Remember, they will resolve eventually and are generally harmless.

Oh, and about those myths

. . . no need to watch out for frogs and save your potatoes for cooking.

Kathy is a family physician, and a regular contributor to Calgary's Child Magazine.

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