It seemed almost like a rite of passage in my family to visit our pediatrician, Dr. Allred, and have him unscrew the lid on his canister of liquid nitrogen so he could dab a little bit of it onto a wart or two that had appeared on our hands. A couple of my siblings had the procedure done several times. I squeaked through childhood with just two.
Warts were just a fact of life at our house, the same as they are in many others. As one of 12 siblings, it was anybody’s guess where they came from (though I’m pretty sure we can eliminate toads as a probable cause). The locker room at the junior high or the community pool where we had swimming lessons were probably crawling with HPV, the family of viruses that causes warts (among other things), and who knows which one of us got it first? Or how? So we didn’t worry too much about it and instead just called to schedule an appointment with Dr. Allred once our other treatment methods had failed, as they usually did.
But while we may have suspected some unknown stranger at the pool for passing along their undesirable germs, it looks as though pools and locker rooms are less pernicious at spreading the virus than something quite a bit closer to home: our own family.
A study out this month in the journal Pediatrics clears public bathing areas from suspicion. Researchers in the Netherlands studied 1,000 children between ages 4-12. They asked them about their exposure to swimming pools and other public places, in addition to examining them for warts. The careful questioning and additional examinations over an 18 month period showed that warts are much more likely to be acquired from family members, friends, and classmates than from the nameless, faceless masses in public places.
I’m not going to lay aside all my suspicions for locker rooms just yet, but I am glad to know that if my kids develop warts, at least it is probably an unintended gift from someone we know and, possibly, love rather than the dirty castoffs from a stranger.