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Can a wart on my finger spread to my genitals?

Posted: March 18, 2013

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  • common wart common wart
  • plantar wart plantar wart

Q: Can a wart on my finger spread to my genital area?

A:  All warts (or "verrucae") are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).  On the hands, they're referred to as common warts; on the bottom of the feet they're called plantar warts; around the fingernails they're called periungual warts; on the genitals or around the anal area they're called genital warts.

Take a deep breath... I know those 3 little letters strike fear in the hearts of all college and grad students, especially those who are sexually active, but there are over 150 distinct strains of HPV and they all prefer certain body parts and skin types.  For instance, HPV-1 has a foot fetish and causes plantar warts while HPV 6 and 11 prefer to hang out in the "junk yard" and cause genital warts. 

So while you technically have HPV on your finger - which I know is creepy to think about - it really likes the neighborhood and has no plans to move down to the "Short North" so to speak.  I know the blogosphere and wiki-land is ripe with people who swear that they got genital warts from fingers (either their own or someone else's) - and while the mysterious nature of life (and fear of lawyers) preclude me from "never saying never" - the odds of that really happening are extremely small.

On the surface (ha ha) warts seem like a silly thing to worry about, but they can become a serious emotional issue - the thought of being "infected" by anything can make you feel gross and the fact that they are visible and are spread by skin-to-skin contact can make them especially embarrassing and even affect relationships.  But it's very important to remember that besides the strains of HPV that cause cervical and some other extremely rare types of cancer, warts are only a cosmetic issue.  They are not a threat to your health or the health of your partners, and they almost all clear on their own within a year or two.

And the good news is that if you don't want to wait that long, there are pretty good treatment options available at the Student Health Center to get rid of them quicker.  I'll talk about them in my next post, but for now, rest assured that you don't need to wear gloves every time you go to the bathroom!

All photos: UpToDate.com

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

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