How contagious are plantar warts?
December 4, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I've had a plantar wart on the ball of my foot for years. I have not taken steps to keep from spreading it. Is this something I should do?

I've had a wart on the bottom of my left foot for a number of years, and in the last year one on my right. My question is less about treatment (apparently duct tape works? who knew?) and more about ethics and courtesy. I have a invitation to use a sauna with some friends next week, and I'm worried whether I'm putting them at risk. Should I buy a pair of flip-flops?

Are there other situations where contagiousness of warts is a problem? Should I not use public swimming pools? Not use others' showers barefoot? Not walk around barefoot with wet feet, or at all? Obviously I've done these things in the last few years. How bad should I feel about it? For much of that time, the possibility of spreading HPV hadn't even occurred to me.
posted by serathen to Health & Fitness (26 answers total)
Burn it with fire. Or ask your MD to do it for you.
posted by rokusan at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2009

Getting it addressed is a fairly easy process. I one after playing football (read: dirty locker room floor and shower) for years. Was shocked when I saw how quickly they can be addressed.
- Schedule an appointment with a podiatrist.
- The podiatrist will take an instrument and scrape (you can't feel a thing) off the calloused skin.
- You will be prescribed a topical ointment which, when applied to an area, kills the skin it touches.
- Wart will be gone within a few days.
posted by bamassippi at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2009

It would be considerate for you to get rid of it, plus they are kind of a drag. I would recommend freezing over burning. Is it unethical though? Probably not.

Also, they're vaguely contagious as obviously people get them from somewhere.
posted by GuyZero at 12:30 PM on December 4, 2009

Data point: I had the exact same thing for probably 5 years. I even tried to burn it off with those weird acid disks, which did not work. Then, a few months ago, I noticed that it had just vanished, poof. I didn't do anything, it was just gone.

(actually, now that I think about it, I stopped playing hockey a few years ago...)
posted by eggplantplacebo at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2009

They spread a lot more easily when wet. Back in the day, I had one on my foot for years. I worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant, and my feet were constantly wet. Before I knew it, I had several warts on both feet. Only after I went through great lengths to keep my feet clean and dry, always changing socks every day and never going barefoot, did they start to disappear. Eventually, they all disappeared, including the one I had had for years. I have no idea why.

Removal of plantar warts is not the same as the removal of regular warts. AFAIK, normal warts are on the surface of the skin while plantar warts go much deeper. I've know people who have had them removed, and it required surgery to dig them out.

Personally, I would err on the side of caution and try to keep from spreading your wart to your friends. After I realized how quickly they could spread, I was always very careful never to walk around barefoot.
posted by dhalgren at 12:44 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

As bamassippi says, get a quick appointment with a podiatrist and get rid of it. It likely can't be good for your gait to keep dealing with it (I'm surprised you haven't found it painful), and it's an easy fix. Until it's gone, I would wear flip flops in your friend's sauna. I wouldn't feel hugely bad about it, but why make someone else deal with what you've got?
posted by zachlipton at 12:49 PM on December 4, 2009

I had a couple when I was a kid. I got them frozen off regularly. Then (on the advice of another doctor who suggested it was worth a try) I switched to shoes that had leather insoles, and they went away. No idea why.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2009

I had one for years that survived several doctor's attempt to remove it. Finally I had a dermatologist tell me that if it didn't hamper me walking or running to just forget about it and it would eventually go away. A few months later it was gone and never game back. I think the duct tape works on a similar idea. Not worrying about it, or believing you are doing something that will work, somehow stimulates your immune system to take car of it.

Don't be surprised if the doctor's attempts to remove it fail.
posted by COD at 1:25 PM on December 4, 2009

Best answer: I had one on each foot which just sort of vanished. I sort of forgot about them after years of my picking at them and trying to remove them myself and in the time it took me to even remember I had them, they just disappeared. *spooky ghost noise*

The transmissible nature of HPV is a mysterious thing, so you're going to have to get comfortable with some very vague answers on this subject. Yes, you should do what you can to protect others. But we're talking about viral strains that are assumed to be living symptomatically or a-symptomatically in almost all adult humans. Your care and concern may well prevent some transmission of the virus, but your contribution to preventing transmission will (universally) probably be small to negligible.

Rule 1: Don't rub your warts on people.
Rule 2: Well, Rule 1 pretty much sums it up.

Also, warts are inconvenient, unsightly and sometimes range from uncomfortable to painful - but we're not talking about the black death here. In my opinion, people should be FAR more concerned about the transmission of cold sores. They're more painful, incurable and land squarely on your face at precisely the wrong moment. Grrrr.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nuke it from orbit, it took my a couple times with my doctor but they've been gone for years now. I tried everything else from picking, cutting, home freezing treatments, girlfriend actively cursing it, to no avail. But 2 or 3 times to the dr made it go away.

You got it from someone, it's annoying to you, so nuke it and you can help keep someone else from getting one.

I wouldn't feel too bad for past walking around, it happens and it's not killing anyone, but you might as well get it fixed, my quality of life went up once I dealt with mine.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:39 PM on December 4, 2009

Seconding 2-3 freeze treatments at the dr plus the over the counter freeze for anything that looks like it is coming back. That approach worked very well for me.
posted by mockjovial at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2009

I had one between my toes forEVER and it kind of started to hurt when I was wearing closed toe shoes so I decided to do something about it. I used those wart bandaids, putting one on after a shower and taking it off after a few days. The way I understood it, though, was that it was supposed to be removing the "bad" skin when it came off, which it wasn't. It was just leaving it pure white and dead looking. So I got rid of that skin myself (kind of gross, more like grossly fascinating), reapplied a wart-bandaid and after one or two times of that - voila! no more wart!

As for transmission, I don't know how easy they are to pass on, considering my ex had a few on his hand and I never got them anywhere he touched me, even my own hands. So, there's that data point.
posted by hepta at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2009

From my experience they are very contagious. When my boyfriend and I got together, I got one from his shower, and it took me months to get rid of it. Of course, I never accepted it as "oh well, what you going to do". To me it was one of the most horrible things that could have happened.

I tried duct tape, and it never worked. I was told banana peels will eat it off as well, but I never tried that.

I ended up going through three bottles of DR. Schools Freeze-off, over a three month period, and that finally did it.

I will advise that the best thing to do before you freeze it off, while wearing some rubber gloves, and being careful not to allow the pieces of the wart to touch other places on your body, is after a shower, take a pair of finger nail clippers and clip out all of it that you can see, so that it is mostly smooth, or as smooth as you can make it, then freeze it off. Repeat the freeze off one day a week until it is gone.

And do wear flip flops at your event, also in your own shower, cause it would suck to get rid of it, to only get it back.

They are contagious, and very hard to remove, but it can be done if you are persistent.

Good luck.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2009

I had a cluster of plantar warts for about a year and a half before they finally got so bad that I had them cut out. (Painful, btw, but worth it.) Despite sharing a shower with my husband, frequently him right after me, he never got them. They're caused by a strain of HPV which nearly everyone has. I'd say to be on the safe side, you should probably get rid of it, but it's not a big deal.
posted by KathrynT at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2009

My partner (who I live with) has a giant planters wart on the toe. After spending months having mine removed, I've been wart free for years. So my guess is ... not that contagious? We share a shower, and it isn't washed every time.

I would wear shower shoes at the pool anyway. It's considerate and will prevent you from getting athlete's foot.
posted by Gor-ella at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2009

I got rid of mine by a combination of going to a regular doctor (not a podiatrist) and having them scrape at it a little bit (in my case this was painful, but bearable). Then I used one of those wart removal band-aids you can pick up at the drug store, and woosh, it was gone. I would recommend this method instead of months of using random products on it. Good luck.
posted by wundermint at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2009

I had a disgusting plantar wart as kid which would not go away. My doctor prescribed a special moleskin which was impregnated with some type of acid. The regimen was to cut the moleskin into doughnut shapes and adhere it to the skin surrounding the wart. The acid would irritate the healthy skin and stimulate it to grow inwardly. After a few weeks of cutting the doughnut holes smaller and smaller, the wart had healed and has never returned, although the sole of my foot still carries a slight indentation where the wart resided.
posted by Oireachtac at 3:50 PM on December 4, 2009

Best answer: To answer your question yes, it is a viral disease communicable via surfaces, so walking anywhere with wet surfaces barefoot is potentially spreading it. This may be true whether or not you're displaying a visible wart. It's super prevalent so it's only so worthwhile to worry about being a carrier, frankly. Wearing flip-flops in the friends' sauna is probably a reasonable courtesy though.

It is typical of warts for the effectiveness of the treatment to vary widely from person to person and case to case. It is also pretty typical of them to So anecdotes about treatment don't mean much to you, I mean they're all possible outcomes. I successfully applied the duct tape cure. The one solid piece of advice I can give you is that 3M's Nexcare bandages worked really well for me to cover an area being treated.
posted by nanojath at 3:51 PM on December 4, 2009

Best answer: Lost a train of thought there - "It is also pretty typical of them to...." just vanish on their own without treatment, I meant to say. People also develop immunity to to them over time in some cases.
posted by nanojath at 3:53 PM on December 4, 2009

Echoing Greekphilosophy: they are not contagious in the traditional sense.

99% of people would have been exposed to, and received this virus whilst children if not infants. Warts work by staying 'under the radar' of your immune system. When something causes your immune system to take notice of them (burning, freezing, various psychosomatic things like your banana skins, duct tape etc), it will kill the warts.

But it doesn't necessarily kill the virus. Hence, much like cold sores, people can sometimes find they have (typically smaller) recurrences of warts years or decades later, brought on by stresss (physical or otherwise), or who knows what.
posted by smoke at 3:54 PM on December 4, 2009

There is no best-practice when it comes to wart removal. Every doctor seems to have their own personal opinion. I've had my plantar's frozen, lasered, sliced, chemically burned, and electrically seared. I also tried the stupid, stupid duck tape trick which doesn't do anything but make my feet stink to holy hell and get gummy adhesive in my socks.

As to your question: they aren't all that contagious. Getting it removed generally means you will have some sort of wound there that you need to keep clean and dressed and sometimes means you cannot put any weight on the foot due to the pain (depends on a lot of factors).

IMHO, the best removal process has just been slicing it off with a scalpel. Everything else is gee-whiz neeto but isn't any better at removing the wart.
posted by chairface at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2009

i had a plantar's wart on my heel for 4 years--just got it frozen off from a dermatologist. my husband and i have shared a shower the entire time and he didn't get a wart. in our case, not too contagious. but i got it somewhere, right? possibly a cheap manicure. who knows. possibly the skin had thickened enough over my wart that it was encased. so, sure, wear flip flops. but don't worry too much about it. and i highly recommend the freezing-off procedure. it did cost $$--about $140 after insurance. but i had tried the home remedies (salicylic acid bandaids) and they weren't doing the trick. 3 visits to the dermatologist killed that sucker. VERY painful, though. damn.
posted by apostrophe at 8:51 PM on December 4, 2009

oh, and my husband swears he removed a wart on his knee but cutting it with nailclippers and then putting cigarettes out on it. this was when he was 22 and living in NYC under the poverty line. YMMV. and: ew.
posted by apostrophe at 8:52 PM on December 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I was growing up, doctor in the family successfully removed a plantar's wart on my heel by scraping off the top few layers of skin daily (or nearly daily). Gone within two months.
posted by arnicae at 10:59 PM on December 4, 2009

No doctor's been successful removing mine (and seeking treatment [along with two other ailments -- er, pre-existing conditions] was a reason Blue Cross/Shield rejected me for insurance coverage). Three have tried now -- I've had acid treatments and laser removal (but curiously none have ever tried the freezing). Whatever, after a year or two, at least one of the warts always come back. If you elect laser surgery note you may be in for a month of agonized walking, while you heal. I've also used the duct-tape treatment which is messy and obviously annoys the wart, but it never actually dies. Mine appear only on the ball of my sole and less commonly on the ball of my heel (by ball I mean dead center). Nowadays I just maintain the obvious one by abraiding it with a pumice stone, infrequently -- keeping its width minimal so it doesn't hurt when I walk or run.
posted by Rash at 1:56 PM on December 5, 2009

Just to chime in here on the duct tape method with a plantar wart. Rash and Chairface mentioned a lack of success, I had the opposite experience. It did take a while to work, like about 2.5 months or so. I'd change the duct tape daily and after a few weeks the skin under the duct tape started to look waterlogged, for lack of a better description. Then about 6 or 7 weeks into it, the wart started to almost feel like it was getting loose, and the skin under the duct tape started to come off, outer layers, with pink skin underneath. This continued for a couple of weeks, me pulling off the tape and the waterlogged-like dead skin coming with it, didn't hurt but looked kinda gross and freaky until I got used to it. Then one day I pulled the duct tape off to change it, and "pop", the wart came out with the latest layer of dead skin. And that was it. Stopped using the tape, and everything went back to the way things were before the wart appeared in a couple of weeks.

Yes, it did reek like wet duct tape, and it looked weird, but it didn't hurt at all, and it was extremely effective.
posted by barc0001 at 3:10 AM on December 6, 2009

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