There are three main types of wart infections that occur on our body: common warts, plantar warts and venereal warts (genital warts).
Common warts
These are caused by a slow-growing virus. Warts are more common in children and are caught from direct contact with someone else who has warts.  Most people have had warts at some stage in their lives.
To look at they have a rough, irregular surface and are usually round in shape. They often appear on the hands, feet or knees.
Plantar warts
Also known as verrucas, these occur most often on the soles of the feet.  They can be very tender, as they take the pressure of movement.
They are skin-coloured and have a slightly irregular surface.  They can grow larger than a common wart.  As these are painful, they usually need to be removed or treated.  They are generally harder and more painful to treat than the common wart.
There are many over-the-counter treatments available, but most warts will disappear over time (around 18-24 months) with or without treatment, especially in children.
If the wart has become painful or unsightly, it can be treated.  Types of treatment are as follows:
  • liquid nitrogen (a freezing process)
  • diathermy (burning away of the wart)
  • laser
  • chemical acid
  • surgical removal.
After most of these treatments, the area will need to have a dressing and to be kept clean and dry.  If the wart is surgically removed a hole is left that will need to heal on its own.
Once a wart has been removed or treated there is no guarantee that it will not return and in a number of cases they do recur.
Remember to get your doctor to look over your warts next time you are visiting, as some skin cancers are very much like warts.
Venereal Warts (genital warts)
Venereal warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). This condition is known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is a common disease and has a higher occurrence in males.  Genital warts can be passed on during a sexual encounter, even if no symptoms or warts are present.  Warts appear from 1-6 months after initial infection.
Genital warts look like small flat irregular shaped growths, often occurring in clusters that enlarge quickly.  They usually grow on the shaft of the penis and on the vulva in women (the external female parts), but they can also grow around the anus and rectum. 
Genital warts can be difficult to get rid of. Treatment options include: freezing, chemical methods, laser or, if the warts are large, surgical removal. The warts tend to recur and new ones grow, so treatment can sometimes take a long time. Sometimes the treatment will require a local anaesthetic (the area with the wart is numbed) or in some cases a general anaesthetic (you are put to sleep during the operation).
HPV in women is linked to cervical cancer, thus it is very important for woman with genital warts to go to the doctor and to have regular smear tests.
Prevention is the key in reducing the spread of genital warts. Practicing safe sex is the only real way to prevent a sexually active person from getting this.  In some cases condoms will not prevent the spread, as they will not cover the whole area that is infected.
Last updated 15 September 2020.