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Kids get more warts from people than public places, try these treatment tips

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Kids get more warts from friends and family than public places

Contrary to popular opinion, kids may be more likely to get warts from their friends and family than in public places, such as public locker rooms, says a new study.

Despite all the germs in such public places, researchers found that kids who had a family member with warts were more than twice as likely to “catch” warts over a one-year period as those who didn’t have family members with warts.

The study, which was conducted at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, also found that kids who had friends with warts had a higher risk of getting them too. Surprisingly, researchers found that kids who used a public swimming pool or public shower did now show any increased risk of warts.

According to the study, published April 22 in the journal Pediatrics, it’s the amount of exposure a child has to the human papillomavirus (HPV) that determines whether or not they get them. HPV is usually transmitted via direct or indirect contact with another person or object where the virus has spread.

"Having a family member with warts was a more important risk factor than school-class prevalence, which was more important than any public factor," the researchers wrote in their study.

Up to one-third of children in primary schools have warts, the researchers wrote in their study, and while most of them disappear on their own, treatment is often sought before then because warts can cause discomfort.

The researchers studied 1,000 children ages 4 to 12, looking for warts on their hands and feet over a one-year period. They then recorded what they found, including any family members or classmates who also had warts. They also took into account other factors, such as how much the children walked barefoot at home, and if they used public swimming pools, public showers or played any sports without shoes and socks. At the end of one year, the researchers followed up with the kids to re-examine them for warts.

Their findings revealed that 29 percent of the children in the study developed new warts at some time within the year. The researchers also found that kids with warts at the beginning of the study were at an increased risk of getting new warts than those without any warts when the study started.

So why do some kids develop more warts than others?

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According to the study’s researchers, a genetic susceptibility to developing warts may run in families. By the same token, they pointed out that kids who had friends with warts also showed an increased chance of developing them; thus, the researchers said exposure is more likely a determining factor.

What can you do if your child develops warts?

Kidshealth.org offers the following advice:

Preventing Warts – Although there's no way to prevent warts, there are some common sense tips to help protect your child as follows:
• It's always a good idea to encourage kids to wash their hands and skin regularly and well.
• If your child has a cut or scratch, use soap and water to clean the area because open wounds are more susceptible to warts and other infections.
• It's also wise to have kids wear waterproof sandals or flip-flops in public showers, locker rooms, and around public pools (this can help protect against plantar warts and other infections, like athlete's foot).

Treating Warts – Warts don't generally cause any problems, so it's not always necessary to have them removed. Without treatment, it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for a wart to go away. A doctor might decide to remove a wart if it's painful or interferes with activities because of the discomfort. Doctors have different ways of removing warts, including:
• Using over-the-counter or prescription medications to put on the wart
• Burning the wart off using a light electrical current)
• Freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen (called cryosurgery)
• Using laser treatment (with recalcitrant warts)

Within a few days after the doctor's treatment, the wart may fall off, but several treatments might be necessary. Doctors don't usually cut off a wart because it can cause scarring and the wart may return.

If an older child has a simple wart on the finger, ask the doctor about using an over-the-counter wart remedy that can help remove the wart. This treatment can take several weeks or months before you see results, but eventually the wart should crumble away from the healthy skin. Wart medicines contain strong chemicals and should be used with care because they can also damage the areas of healthy skin. Talk with your doctor before using any over-the-counter wart medicine on the face or genitals.

Also make sure that your child:

• Soaks the wart in warm water and removes dead skin on the surface of the wart with an emery board (that's never going to be used for nails) before applying the medicine. Be careful not to file into it.
• Keeps the area of the wart covered while the medicine works
• Knows not to rub, scratch, or pick at it to avoid spreading the virus to another part of the body or causing the wart to become infected

You might also have heard that you can use duct tape to remove a wart. Talk to your doctor about whether this type of home treatment is OK for your child.

SOURCES: Pediatrics Journal, Warts Transmitted in Families and Schools: A Prospective Cohort, Published online April 22, 2013 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2946); Kidshealth.org