Viral Warts

This information is useful for children and adults
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Yale Medicine dermatologists offer specialized expertise in the treatment of all skin conditions.
  • We offer a novel form of treatment for resistant viral warts called immunotherapy.
  • Viral warts treated with immunotherapy don't tend to recur.

While having warts can be annoying—even embarrassing—they are often treatable and not harmful. 

Common warts, flat warts and plantar warts are viral infections of the skin (most originating from the human papillomavirus or HPV family) that usually appear on the hands and feet.

“Ultimately, warts are benign,” says Brittany Gareth Craiglow, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Yale Medicine. “They can be a nuisance, occasionally cause discomfort, and often people don’t like the way they look, but in the end they are not harmful.”

Many viral warts are caused by viruses in the HPV family. Though these can be resistant to treatment, doctors at Yale Medicine have found success using the novel approach of immunotherapy, which alerts the immune system to the wart's presence. 

Viral warts affect children and teens more than adults because their immune systems haven’t developed the antibodies to fight strains of HPV that cause warts.

“Kids’ immune systems are often slow to wake up to them,” says Brittany Gareth Craiglow, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Yale Medicine. “The virus can essentially hide in the skin.” While some parents worry that warts are a sign of something wrong, she says, “In the vast majority of cases, it just means that they’re a kid. Eventually, though, the body will recognize they’re there and will do something about it.” Until then, there are several treatment strategies. 

Skin-to-skin contact, or skin that comes in contact with things that have been touched by others, is often what spreads the virus. So it can help for people to avoid sharing such personal items as towels or pumice stones that touch the skin directly. Watching out for open cuts on such wart-prone areas as hands and feet can also help, so it’s best to quit habits like fingernail biting. Still, Dr. Craiglow emphasizes that there really isn’t much one can do in the way of prevention.  

“HPV is everywhere, you can’t really avoid it,” she says. “There’s not that much you can do to protect yourself from warts.” 

Though most people become immune to the viruses over time, usually by the end of the teenage years, some people may develop warts into adulthood, possibly because of certain genetic susceptibilities. Patients who are immunocompromised (such as those taking medications that suppress the immune system) may also see warts develop, but in general, the condition largely affects children.

Clinical Trials

New treatments for many conditions are tested in clinical trials, which ultimately bring lifesaving new drugs and devices to the patients who need them most. By participating in a clinical trial, you may get access to the most advanced treatments for your condition, and help determine their benefits for future patients.