The Stubbornness of Warts

Warts are one of the most common complaints in the dermatology clinic. They are caused by superficial skin infection by the Human Papillomavirus and are spread through direct contact with an infected person or possibly from objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus. In people with normal immunity, warts often subside spontaneously over several months or within 2-3 years. However, warts can also often persist for many years if not treated. In such cases, the wart virus can be extremely stubborn.

It is unclear why some wart cases clear more quickly than others. Most viral infections, such as the common cold, will resolve within a few days because the immune system can easily detect and defeat the virus. Our immune system needs to eliminate the wart virus from the infected skin to rid the skin of warts. Wart viruses have an unusually strong capability to escape the surveillance of the human immune system over extended periods. As long as the virus persists, the wart will also last. In the clinic, our providers do things to help the immune system effectively fight the wart virus.

One or more treatment options may be provided, depending on the kind and location of the wart and the patient’s age. Techniques include freezing warts with liquid nitrogen, applying topical drugs or blistering agents, carefully removing warts with electric cautery, and injecting drugs that destroy infected cells or activate the immune system to attack the wart virus. In most cases, in-office wart treatments generally provide a quicker resolution to this common but stubborn viral infection.