Warts in babies and children

Warts in babies and children

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Warts are caused by any one of more than 100 different strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). The virus can enter through a tiny cut or scratch and grow slowly for several months before forming a wart. Most warts can be treated with over-the-counter wart medicine, but it can take a few months.

How can I tell if my child has a wart?

Warts are pretty common in children once they're mobile. (They're rarely seen in babies under 2.) Here are the types of warts children are likely to get:

Common warts can appear anywhere on the body but most often show up on the hands, especially around the nails or where the skin has been broken. They're hard and rough to touch and tend to be shaped like small, skin-colored domes.

Plantar warts are found on the bottom of the feet. They can be quite painful and make it feel like you're walking on a small stone. These warts look like hard patches of skin and may have tiny dark spots on them.

Filiform warts are found around the mouth, eyes, or nose. They have finger-like shapes and are typically skin-colored.

Are warts contagious?

Warts aren't highly contagious, but you can pick up the virus from direct contact with another person or from an object a wart touched, such as a towel.

Warts often spread when children pick at them. They can spread on your child's body, especially to places where the skin is torn or cracked.

How should I treat my child’s wart?

You may just want to leave it alone. About 60 percent of warts will disappear on their own within 2 years.

Even with treatment, it can take months for a wart to go away. Unless the wart is on your child's face, start with an over-the-counter wart medicine from the pharmacy. Follow the directions on the package. Generally, this is what you'll need to do:

• Soak the wart in warm water for 5 minutes each day, preferably at bedtime.

• If the wart is thick, gently file the surface with a nail file or pumice stone that you don't use for any other purpose.

• Apply the medicine to the wart, avoiding the surrounding skin.

• Once the medicine is dry, cover the wart with duct tape and leave it on overnight.

• Wash your hands after touching the wart to prevent the virus from spreading.

• Repeat daily until the wart is gone, which can take 2 to 4 months.

If you child has many warts or if the warts keep coming back, see your child's doctor for treatment or for referral to a dermatologist. They may prescribe a stronger wart medicine or a medication that stimulates the immune system to fight the virus. In rare cases, they may recommend freezing or scraping the wart off.

When to call the doctor about a child’s wart

• If the wart causes your child pain, spreads, or is embarrassing.

• If a wart ever seems to be growing rapidly or the color changes.

• If the wart looks infected. Signs of infection include red streaking, discharge, or an unexplained fever. (This is rare.)

• If your child has warts on his anus, genitals, or in his mouth. (Note: These may be venereal warts, which can sometimes be contracted during childbirth and may take several years to appear. They also raise the possibility of sexual abuse.)

How can I prevent my child from getting warts?

Although there’s no way to completely prevent warts, you can use these tips to reduce your child’s risk of getting the virus that causes them.

• Wash hands often.

• Wear shoes in locker rooms, pool areas, and public showers.

• Don't share towels or toiletries.

• Clean and cover cuts and scrapes.

Finally make sure your child gets the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against genital warts and several strains of virus that have been associated with increased risk of cervical and penile cancers. It's usually recommended at age 11 or 12. This vaccine is most protective when the person receives it before being exposed to the types of HPV that can cause genital warts and genital cancers.

Learn more:

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