Does touching toads gives you warts?

Monday, July 17, 2006
What is it about toads that make us dislike them so much? After all, they're not that different from frogs and yet they don't engender the same warm feelings that we have about frogs. After all, you don't see people snacking on a chocolate toad.

Yep, toads have had a bum-rap for centuries. Maybe it's because we think that touching those things that look like warts on toads will result in us getting warts instead.

But is this true or false?

Dr Lee Grismer is a herpetologist from La Sierra University in Los Angeles in the United States.

According to Dr Grismer, the warts on toads are an accumulation of mucus glands and poison glands that are in the skin.

"When the toad is alarmed or feels threatened it can actually produce a milky secretion that comes out of those glands," he says.

The toad we're most familiar with in Australia is the cane toad. Handle it roughly, and it's likely to react by excreting a bufo toxin — ingest this toxin and you'll set off a chain reaction which could include intense pain, seizures, cardiac collapse, even death. But there's one thing these fellas won't give you, and that's warts.

This is a common misconception that happens with a lot of animals — toads do not cause warts.

So if toads can't give us warts then what does?

Sydney dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook has the answers: "Basically warts are a virus that human skin can pick up. And wart viruses are ubiquitous, that means it's everywhere in the community … it's the Human Papilloma Virus, which we basically call HPV."

The Human Papilloma Virus is a bit like a toad. It likes hopping from person to person and it spreads easily through human contact.

It enters the skin through cuts or scratches, causing the cells to multiply rapidly. The wart will even have its own blood supply, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have roots.

There are over 100 varieties of papilloma virus, so it's little wonder three out of four of us will get a wart at some time in our lives.

"Basically the wart virus can target any surface of the skin. The hands, the feet, the other body surfaces, the lips and as we know, even the genitalia as well," says Dr Cook.

The next time you shower in a public change room or airport lounge, consider this first — it's just the kind of place to easily contract warts, especially on bare feet. So be on the safe side and wear thongs, and if you're in close proximity to someone who has a wart, don't touch it because they're slightly contagious.

"Children are more likely to pick up warts because their immune system is very young and hasn't yet been trained to recognise the wart virus and therefore be able to get rid of them," says Dr Cook.

Okay, so now we know what causes warts, but how do we dispose of them?

In the good old medieval days, getting rid of a wart was serious business, you could sell it to a friend or you could rub it with a bit of beef, bury the meat and when the meat rotted your wart would, supposedly, disappear. For the fashion conscious, you could wear a live toad in a bag around your neck as a pendant and when the beast died it was said your wart died with it — attractive!

Thankfully, doctors today have more reliable methods and a huge repertoire of treatments to get rid of warts:

  • For stubborn warts, bleomycin injections are extremely effective.

    "It's a substance that actually kills the cells containing the wart virus," says Dr Cook.

  • If you're into cryotherapy, the wart virus can be frozen and killed with liquid nitrogen at sub-zero temperatures, but dermatologists have to make sure they get to the base of the wart.

  • For hard-to-reach warts under a nail, old-school methods are best — slicing and dicing.

  • If you're patient, most warts will actually disappear on their own, thanks to your immune system.

But one thing's for sure — you'll never get a wart from a toad.

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