Warts are among the most common skin infections, but certain people are more likely than others to end up with warts based on their overall health, environmental conditions, and lifestyle. The two leading groups in this regard are immunocompromised individuals and athletes. Indeed, those with immune system deficiencies are more vulnerable to all kinds of skin problems, warts included. As for athletes, though, this connection might not be as immediately clear -- after all, those who exercise regularly tend to have a stronger immune system. The virus that causes warts, (the human papillomavirus, or HPV for short), though, tends to find its way into the skin of athletes more frequently for several reasons.
Let’s go over how and why athletes are among those most susceptible to contracting warts.
The majority of sports are team sports, which naturally brings several people together in gyms, locker rooms, showers, and other shared spaces. Transmissible viruses such as HPV (remember what causes warts) more easily spread in these close-quarter scenarios. All it takes is one person carrying HPV to make direct skin contact with someone else, share a towel or beverage, etc. Moreover, as it turns out, HPV thrives in conditions often provided in these aforementioned spaces. The heat and humidity present in locker rooms and showers are prime conditions for HPV to linger and thrive, resting on mats, floors, benches, and other common surfaces. As a result, many types of warts can be spread and contracted from one athlete to another in these settings.
Though some sports are more aggressive than others, most of these activities increase one’s risk of being injured. At the very least, bruises, cuts, and scrapes are common occurrences on the court or field. Of course, any skin abrasion that isn’t properly cleaned and covered is an avenue for bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms to enter the body -- HPV is no exception. The direct skin-to-skin contact mentioned earlier doesn’t guarantee that one person’s warts will infect someone else, but if the receiver’s skin is open from cuts or scrapes, this transmission is much more likely. The combination of densely packed spaces and open wounds common in athletic spheres is a double-whammy for wart spread.
It should be mentioned that many athletes take great care of their skin and are careful not to put themselves or their teammates in harm’s way. Warts are still common in athletes despite these efforts, though. Indeed, among athletes, HPV most commonly manifests in the form of a plantar wart, which is simply a wart that occurs on the bottom of one’s foot. If the reason for this isn’t already clear, it has to do with the high propensity for athletes to walk around barefoot in various settings (especially showers and locker rooms). Even if an athlete is careful about not sharing towels or drinks, covering wounds, and avoiding skin-to-skin contact, all it takes is HPV to find an opening in the bottom of their foot to find a home and create warts. Once again, HPV can stick around for a while in athletic settings, so stepping on a mat or shower floor without foot protection increases your odds of contracting warts.
Warts can be detrimental to athletes of all kinds, causing significant pain, hindering movement, and putting teammates and opponents at greater risk of getting warts of their own. As such, doing your best to avoid warts is pivotal -- once again, avoid walking around barefoot if possible, keep your distance in shared spaces, don’t share towels, drinks, or other items, clean and cover open wounds, maintain good hygiene overall, and keep your skin healthy and hydrated. If and when you do end up with warts, talk to your dermatologist about wart treatment options. Over-the-counter wart treatments often do the trick, though more intensive wart removal procedures may be necessary to more quickly and effectively eliminate them.