The question of whether or not warts are contagious can be answered with a simple “yes.” However, the reality is that it’s not always so simple. While it’s true that the virus which causes warts is highly contagious and very easily passed along, everyone exposed to it will not necessarily develop warts. In fact, experts estimate that as many as two-thirds of all individuals exposed to someone with warts will never develop them themselves.
All types of warts are caused by one of the strains of viruses in the human papillomavirus family. There are over 200 strains of this virus, with anywhere from 50 to 100 that can cause warts. It’s important to note that warts are almost always harmless and easily treated. Only two strains of the virus, HPV 16 and 18 are considered extremely serious because they are known to lead to certain types of cancers. The rest generally don’t produce anything beyond annoying warts.
Different Strains, Different Warts
There are many different kinds HPV infections including common, oral, periungual, flat, plantar and genital warts. All are caused by different strains of the virus and, therefore, affect different parts of the body. For example, despite the contagious nature of warts, it’s highly unlikely that you would develop common hand warts on the soles of your feet. Likewise, you’re not likely to develop plantar warts on your face.
Among all types of warts, the most contagious and stubborn are genital warts. Interestingly, HPV 11 and 6 are the two strains responsible for more than 90% of all cases. Unfortunately, these two strains also tend to be the hardest ones to get rid of. Experts suggest that people suffering from genital warts try to avoid all sexual contact until the problem clears up. They also suggest the use of condoms when possible, although there is much debate as to whether or not there is any value to the practice.
HPV Needs and Entry Point
Another thing to keep in mind about HPV and warts is that the virus needs an entry point. So while it’s possible to spread the virus from one person to the next, the recipient will need to have a cut, scratch, or abrasion in order for the virus to find a permanent home. This is one of the reasons why genital warts spread so easily. The mechanics of the sexual act almost always result in some skin damage, creating a large number entry points.
On the other hand, the soles of the feet generally are covered with very tough and calloused skin. This skin makes it difficult to provide entry points for the virus in most circumstances, so picking up the virus from a locker room floor is not likely for most people. Likewise, common hand warts are usually only spread if the recipient of the virus as a cut or scratch in the skin.
The Immune System Factor
Finally, the last factor in the contagious spread of HPV and warts lies in the immune system. HPV is so prevalent that many in the medical community suggest we are exposed to it on a daily basis. Fortunately, most people have immune systems strong enough to defend against HPV before warts develop. Furthermore, many cases of common warts will simply clear up in a matter of months without any intervention.
Those who are concerned about contracting warts can lower the risk by simply leaving a healthy lifestyle. A healthy and strong immune system is much more capable of fighting off HPV than one which is unhealthy and weak. Proper hygiene, and being careful not to share certain objects with others, will also go a long way.