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9 myths and facts about verrucas

Unpleasant as they are, verrucas and warts are a fact of life for many people – most children and adults will suffer from one form of wart or another at some point in their lives, and while they are rarely harmful, they can be unsightly, cause embarrassment and – particularly in the case of verrucas on the feet – can be painful.

There are a lot of myths around verrucas, what they are, how they are spread and how they can be treated. These myths range from understandable misconceptions to folk remedies that can only be described as bizarre; here we’ll look at a few common (and uncommon) myths about verrucas, and discover the facts.

Myth: Verrucas and warts are totally different things.

Fact: There are various types of warts, all of which are caused by variations of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Types of wart include the common wart, which often appear on the hands, and plane warts, which are common in young children. Verrucas – also called plantar warts – usually appear on the soles of the feet.

Myth: Verrucas aren’t contagious.

Fact: While verrucas and warts aren’t as contagious as some infectious conditions, they can be directly transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, and also indirectly via objects and surfaces contaminated with the HPV virus.

Myth: If you have a single verruca or wart, it won’t spread.

Fact: Verrucas and warts are believed to remain contagious for as long as they’re present. That means that they can spread – and it’s common for sufferers to develop clusters of multiple verrucas, known as mosaic warts.

Myth: People mainly catch verrucas from public swimming pools.

Fact: This one is repeated so often that it’s almost universally accepted as fact, but there’s very little hard evidence that swimming pools are breeding grounds for verrucas. It is true that HPV can be spread by either direct or indirect contact, so if you do have a verruca you should keep it covered up when you go for a swim at your local pool – a simple waterproof plaster will do.

Myth: Verrucas appear quickly.

Fact: It’s not unusual for people who develop warts or verrucas to think back over the past few days for clues as to how they might have caught the infection. In fact, it usually takes weeks or even months after becoming infected before the wart appears.

Myth: If you don’t treat a verruca it will never go away.

Fact: Verrucas are tenacious and can be long-lasting, but most clear up within a couple of years or so, even if you don’t do anything to treat them. However, they are likely to last longer if you have a weak immune system.

Myth: You can be inoculated against warts and verrucas.

Fact: This one’s partly true. HPV vaccines are available that protect against certain strains of the human papillomavirus. However, these are mainly aimed at the specific types of HPV that can cause genital warts and certain cancers (such as cervical cancer) rather than the strains that result in verrucas.

Myth: Duct tape can cure verrucas.

Fact: As unlikely as it sounds, there may actually be some truth to this one. The treatment involves covering your verruca or wart with a bit of duct tape for around six days. After removing it, soak the verruca and use a pumice stone or emery board to remove the rough skin, then repeat. There’s limited evidence to support this cure, but at least one trial appears to show that verrucas can disappear within a couple of months using this method.

Myth: You can cure a wart or verruca by rubbing it with a wet stone.

Fact: This is one of a handful of folk cures collected and compiled by the Irish Folklore Commission between 1937 and 1938. While we wouldn’t recommend it as a reliable verruca treatment – nor the one that suggests rubbing a snail on your wart every morning – it does bear a curious similarity to the soaking and pumice stone method often recommended as a verruca treatment.