VerrucaA verruca is simply a wart that is usually found on the soles of your feet, though they can also appear around the toes. In the early stages, a verruca looks like a small, dark, puncture mark but later turns grey or brown. It may become rough and bumpy with a cauliflower-like appearance and may develop a black spot in the middle, which is caused by bleeding. A verruca can grow to half an inch in diameter and may spread into a cluster of small warts.
Verrucae are caused by the human papiloma virus (HPV). This virus is very contagious, but can only be caught by direct contact. It thrives in warm, moist environments such as swimming pools, changing room floors and bathrooms. So if an infected bare foot walks across the poolside, it may release virus-infected cells onto the floor. If you then walk on the same floor, you can pick the virus up, especially if you have any small or invisible cuts and abrasions that make it even easier for the virus to penetrate. You could also catch the virus from an infected towel.
They are harmless. However, they can cause a sharp, burning pain if you get one on a weight-bearing area such as the ball or the heel of the foot. Because you are constantly pressing on the area when walking, they can protrude into the skin and become more painful.
When you have verrucae on a non-weight-bearing surface (such as on the top of the foot or on the toes), they protrude above skin level, tend to be fleshier and cause less pain.
They are common in children, especially teenagers. Verrucae generally resolve spontaneously within six months in children. But in adults, they can persist for years.
Minimise your chances of catching a verruca by keeping your feet clean and dry, and covering up any cuts or scratches. Avoid walking barefoot in communal showers or changing rooms (wear flip-flops) and don’t share towels. Though you should wear verruca socks when swimming to avoid passing on the virus, they can also be worn as a preventive measure.
If a verruca does appear, avoid touching or scratching it as it may spread into a cluster of several warts. Instead, cover it up with plaster. In some cases, this may cure it.
If you are fit and healthy, it’s fine to treat yourself with over-the-counter gels and ointments. Look for products containing salicyclic acid, such as Verrugon and follow the instructions carefully.
A recent review of treatments in the British Medical Journal (August 2002) concluded that the safest and most effective treatments were those containing salicylic acid. This acid is applied to the wart to disintegrate the viral cells and has a cure rate of 75%. It may need to be applied at weekly intervals over a set period of time.
Your podiatrist can offer a number of treatments including salicylic acid treatments and Cryotherapy which involves freezing warts off with liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide gas.