When removing the dead skin after treating a wart with salicylic acid, is that area of the hand still contagious with the HPV virus? If so, how can I reduce the chances of spreading the wart?
Another great question from a loyal BuckMD reader! And on one of our favorite – and creepiest – topics. We’ve covered how to get rid of warts and whether or not warts from the hand can spread to more private areas, but we’ve never talked about whether or not they can spread while you’re getting rid of them.
There are a lot of different treatment options for warts, and while they may differ based upon location and other factors, the goal for most of them is to destroy the warty epidermis (top layer of skin) and the virus within it. After a treatment, the skin will blister or get irritated and eventually slough off. That skin is dead and so is the virus within it so it isn’t contagious anymore. Unfortunately, even though the skin around the area of treatment may look normal, there is often virus still present in it.
So to answer your question – yes, that area of the hand can still be contagious with HPV virus even after treatment. Since warts are spread by skin-to-skin contact, the best way to prevent further spread is to keep it covered up in between treatments.
We try to extend the area of treatment to include the normal skin right around the wart to prevent this from happening, but HPV is microscopic so it’s impossible to tell whether we’ve gotten it all. This is why it usually takes several weeks and multiple treatments to get rid of them.
When dealing with warts, you have to be patient and persistent. But look on the bright side – while they are annoying, common warts are not dangerous and even if you don’t do anything to them, they’ll go away on their own within 2 years in up to two-thirds of people.
If you’re having trouble with warts, or any other skin problems, come in to see us at Student Health – we’re always happy to help you out!
John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University