Biology Question #2060

Linda, a 31 year old female from Toronto asks on April 22, 2004,

I have heard that the papiloma virus could be transmitted not only through sex but just by a simple handshake. Is that possible? How can we protect ourselves?

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The answer

David Winsemius answered on April 25, 2004

The types of wart virus (human papilloma virus or HPV) that cause ordinary skin warts are different from the ones that cause genital warts. So, yes, it is true that transmission of HPV can occur with a handshake, but it is unlikely that you could get one of the types that cause genital lesions. The transmissibility of HPV to intact skin is very, very low. Here is a table of types of HPV.

Treatment options are well described at

Our bodies are already protecting themselves. If you have a break in the skin of your hands, you are likely to cover it up. Handwashing is a good idea for lots of reasons, and will decrease the risk as a side effect, but I would not increase my frequency of handwashing because of this minor concern. There are many threats to human health of far greater magnitude than getting warts. Protect yourself by wearing seatblets, exercising regularly, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Ignore the extremely tiny risk of getting ordinary warts. It's not worth the time.

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