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Infectious Disease

Avoid these gross foot infections

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Ugh, plantar warts. They’re painful, deep, and unsightly. They magically appear on the bottoms of your feet, and then take ages to go away. But we can save your soles. Read on to learn the easiest and fastest ways to destroy plantar warts—and prevent the nuisances from ever showing up again.

How you get them

Plantar warts are contagious viral infections caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Your skin has to come in direct contact with a surface containing the virus—most of us contract it from bare floors, swimming pool decks, and locker room floors where the moisture allows the virus to thrive. 

The virus infects skin cells and sits outside the body, which makes it hard for your immune system to properly fight the infection, says Pete Smith, vice president of the Pennsylvania Podiatric Medical Association. They usually last a very long time, several months to a couple of years, and if left untreated, can spread. Due to pressure on the foot, they can also be painful while walking, standing, or exercising.

Duct tape works—sort of ...

Placing duct tape over the wart is an old trick that can actually work sometimes. It’s not the tape itself that does the trick—it’s most likely the skin’s allergic reaction to the adhesive that stimulates the body’s immune system to kill the virus, says Smith. A 2007 study from the University of Minnesota found that duct tape was effective 21 percent of the time. If you want to try it, follow these steps: Apply the duct tape over the wart, a bit bigger than the wart, to ensure the tape stays fixed to the skin. Leave it on six and a half days, replacing if it falls off, and then let the skin rest overnight. Repeat for several weeks, says Davis.

Try a topical

Medicinal lotions are the most common first-attempt strategies. Most of these are salicylic acid-based products. Look for products with the highest percentage, which will be the most effective, Smith says. An important part of topical treatments is to remove some of the excess, overlying skin on the wart, so that when you apply the medication it can penetrate down to the virus faster. The skin on the bottom of your foot is 10-15 times thicker than other places on your body, making it harder for the medication to penetrate. 

Finally, sanitize your shoes with bleach or a strong vinegar solution if your bare feet have come in contact with them. Throw your running shoes in the washer, or take out the insoles and let them completely dry out, Smith advises. 

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Avoid the knife!

If you try to remove it yourself with a sharp object, you could injure yourself, says Dr. Dawn Marie Davis, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic. 

“Also, warts do easily spread by friction, so avoid traumatizing your skin in an attempt to remove the wart,” she says. 

This includes applying extreme heat or cold to the wart to try to resolve it. That not only risks severe skin damage, but it won't work. Remember as well that taking a sharp object to it yourself could lead to a bacterial infection on top of your viral one. Skip it. 

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Seek professional help

Possibly the easiest way to get rid of the wart is by going to the podiatrist or dermatologist for treatment. There are a number of different prescription topical treatments they can offer that are much stronger than over-the-counter solutions. The physician can also offer treatments including laser and surgical excision to get rid of the wart.

Avoid contracting them again

Since the virus is contracted by skin-to-skin contact and by coming into contact with inanimate objects that have the virus, it is important to always have the feet protected from such contact, Smith says. Don't walk barefoot in public pools, gyms, locker rooms or showers where someone with the virus may have been.  Don't wear other people's shoes. Try not to get cuts or scrapes on your feet, which would allow easier access to the skin for the virus, Smith says.

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