10 to 20 percent of children have common skin warts, but where do they come from? Old wives tales and folklore suggest they come from touching frogs or toads, but I think we’ve all grown past that as an explanation. Actually, warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). They form when the virus gets into the skin, usually through a cut or scratch. The virus causes the rapid growth of cells on the outer layer of skin and once formed, they can be rough or smooth to the touch.
How do children get warts? A recent study found that elementary age children are most likely to catch the virus from family members or at school.
The study was led by, Sjoerd C. Bruggink, MD, Department of Public Health and Primary Care at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He and his team looked at how warts are commonly spread. They focused on HPV, but not the strains transmitted through sexual activity.
The study looked at 1,000 children ages 4 to 12. Researchers looked for warts on the children’s hands and feet, and recorded information such as whether any family members or classmates had warts, whether the children walked barefoot at home, and whether they visited public swimming pools, used public showers or played sports barefoot. At a follow-up exam a year later, the children were re-examined for warts.
Overall, 29 percent of the children in the study developed new warts during the year. Researchers said that children who had warts at the start of the study were more likely to develop new warts than were children who had no warts at the beginning of the study.
The investigators noted that the susceptibility to developing warts may run in families. The study found that children who had family members with warts were twice as likely to develop warts.
20 percent of the children were more likely to get them from classmates who had warts.
Prevention should be aimed at reducing transmission within families and classes, the researchers said. For example, covering warts at home, rather than in the swimming pool, might be a more effective way to prevent their transmission.
Fortunately, common warts are not harmful to a child’s health and often go away on their own. If your child’s warts are uncomfortable and causing problems, your physician can remove them. That won’t guarantee that they won’t come back though, warts often return, but it can offer some relief.
The findings suggest that while public places can certainly be a contact point for the HPV virus, the home and classroom are more likely to be where children come into contact with the virus. The researchers say more preventative recommendations should be focused there.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.