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Warts and All

Identification, Cause and Treatment

Although warts are described in medical literature as small, usually painless benign growths, the description fails to capture the discomfort, physical and emotional, experienced by those plagued with warts.  Millions of people suffer with warts and have done so for centuries.   Warts were well known in ancient Greece and Rome, and the modern-day terminology has roots in these ancient times.  The word condyloma is of Greek origin, meaning knuckle or knob.  Myrmecia, a term used to describe painful, deep plantar warts, is also from the Greek word for anthill.  In Roman-Hellenistic times, genital warts were referred to by the Latin term ficus, meaning fig.  The fact that warts are often described by their appearance, confirms that one of the main challenges surrounding warts is that they are unattractive.

We now know that warts are caused by more than 100 various strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).  At least 15 of the ‘high risk’ HPV viral strains may cause cancer. It is estimated that 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection.  In fact, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada estimates that up to 30% of the Canadian adult population is infected with HPV.    Since warts are viral in origin, they are contracted by contact with a source of infection.  This can be through direct physical contact or through secondary contact with the shed skin of a wart (i.e. floors or towels in public pools or fitness facilities).  Since the incubation period is quite long, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint the source of infection.  Susceptibility varies from individual to individual and immunity plays an important role.  In the case of genital warts, condoms do not provide complete protection.  The good news, however, is that frogs and toads have now been cleared of wart spreading.


Warts are classified into 5 types, by their characteristics and location:


Common Warts: 
(verrucae vulgaris) generally appear on areas that are frequently injured (broken skin is more susceptible to viral infection) – knees, elbows, fingers and face.  Common warts may spread to the surrounding skin and are usually firm, small and rough.


Filiform Warts:
usually appear on the face, the eyelids and lips in particular, as well as the neck.  They are small, long and narrow.


Flat Warts: 
most common in children and young adults, usually appear in clusters on the face and upper surface of the hands.  Men also develop flat warts in the bearded area and they may be spread while shaving.


Genital Warts:
(condylomata acuminata) also called venereal warts,  occur on the anus, cervix, penis, vagina or vulva.  Genital warts are irregular and bumpy, like a small cauliflower.


Periungual Warts:
are thickened, cauliflower-like growths around the nails.  These are common in nail-biters.


Plantar Warts: 
develop on the sole of the foot and underside of the toes.  They are flattened by the pressure of walking and are surrounded by thickened skin.  There is often a dark center and plantar warts tend to bleed from pin point spots.  They can be very painful.


Although warts can disappear on their own with time, it can be a long wait.  Warts may also recur after removal and there is the added risk of scarring.  Conventional medical treatment involves burning, cutting or freezing.  Some medical doctors advise patients to continue to irritate the area after burning or freezing so that the body will ‘recognize’ the virus and mount an immune response. Less painful methods of dealing with the HPV virus and warts include holistic nutrition, naturopathy and homeopathy.  A holistic approach seeks to increase the overall immunity of the individual.


Some of you may be old enough to remember these folk cures:

  • Take string and make an equal number of knots to the warts.  Lay the string under a stone.  Whoever treads on the stone will attach the warts to himself.
  • Throw some clay from under your right foot in the path by which a funeral is going, and say ‘Corpse of clay, carry my warts away!’
  • Wash your warts in moonbeams, in an otherwise empty, well-polished basin
  • Rub warts with a raw potato, bury the potato in clay. 
  • Rub the wart with a piece of stolen beef.  Bury the meat.


Whatever your experience with warts, take solace in the fact that there are solutions at hand.  Not everyone associates warts with ugliness.  In fact, AY Jackson painted in the Algoma Region in the 1920s, immortalizing the beauty of Wart Lake, Ontario!  Why would a lake be named Wart Lake you ask?  Well legend has it that an errant mapmaker left the ‘z’ off Wartz Lake and the name stuck.



Kashka Kril-Atkins is a homeopath and owner of BLUEPRINT Wholistic Health Clinic, an Integrative Medicine Clinic and Shop located in midtown.  For more information on holistic strategies for optimal health visit www.blueprintwellness.ca