Verrucas are warts on the foot caused by a contagious skin infection called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They're quite common, and many of us will get a wart at some point in our lives.

How verrucas are spread

HPV is spread by skin to skin contact or when the skin comes into contact with a contaminated surface. Traces of the virus can often be found on floors in gyms, spas and sports centres, for example, where people often walk barefoot. So it’s important to keep your feet covered in these places such as by wearing flip flops in the showers – especially as we're most susceptible to HPV infection when our skin is wet and soft. 

What does a verruca look like?

A verruca, also known as a plantar wart, usually takes the shape of a raised area on the foot. Because of this, they’re easily confused with corns – areas of thickened skin on the feet, caused by pressure. You can often identify a verruca by black dots (dried blood) within it, but not all of them have black dots, so consult your pharmacist if you're not sure.

Verrucas often appear on the weight-bearing parts of the foot which can add to the discomfort, often feeling like a stone you can’t remove from your shoe.

Who’s most likely to catch a verruca?

Anyone who’s exposed to the HPV virus can catch one, but in general children are more prone to getting warts than adults, although the reason for this is unclear. If you have a weakened immune system, this may also mean you're more likely to get verrucas and other warts. 

It's also worth noting that it can take months for a verruca to appear following contact with the HPV virus.

What to do if you have a verruca

• Avoid touching it as you may spread the virus. If you do touch it, wash your hands

• Change your socks every day

• Don’t share towels, socks or shoes with anyone, including family members

• Don’t pick your verruca. It may bleed, or become infected

• Don’t go barefoot, or you may risk spreading the HPV virus

• Keep it covered with a plaster in swimming pools, gyms and changing rooms

What verruca treatments are available?

There are a few options to help treat verrucas:

Salicylic acid-based products

These work by helping to kill the virus and soften the hard skin, so it is easier to remove using a pumice stone or an emery board. They require multiple applications and they’re applied as a gel, paint, or as medicated plasters. Read the patient information leaflet for details on how to use the product appropriately.

Freezing treatments

These are designed to freeze the verruca by treating it with a freezing agent, often in spray form.

Both these types of treatment are available from your pharmacist. Keep up the treatment even if it doesn't seem to be making any difference, as verruca treatments can sometimes take weeks or even months to work. Always follow the instructions in the leaflet which comes with the product and ask your pharmacist for advice if you’re unsure of anything.

Verrucas can also go away by themselves.

Can my GP remove my verruca?

Many GPs offer wart-freezing treatments, including for verrucas. Further treatment options include laser treatment or surgical removal. Your GP might refer you to a skin specialist for these. It's rare for a verruca to cause serious problems, but if it keeps coming back, has spread, is large or painful; or is changing shape see your GP.

Next steps

• Always cover your feet at the gym, pool or spa

• If you have diabetes, consult your doctor or pharmacist about the best way to treat a verruca

• Consult your pharmacist about treatments that might be suitable for you

• See your GP if a verruca spreads, changes shape, or keeps reappearing