It was not until 1950 that it became widely accepted that warts were caused by a virus. The acknowledgment of this fact only came after it was proven by particles of the virus being visible with an electron microscope. Prior to that time, the fact was considered to be nothing more than a theory, even when evidenced by such experiences as that of Dr. Joseph Payne at the end of the nineteenth century. After acquiring warts from treating a patient without using sterile precautions, Dr. Payne theorized that warts are contagious and easily transmittable from one person to another. Scientific proof was necessary before this theory was accepted.
As warts have been around since the beginning of recorded history, so too have the theories of their cause and outrageous attempts at cures. The mummified remains of an Egyptian court musician shows how far back in time warts have been an annoyance to people. The approximate range in time was around 2400-2300 B.C.
While obviously people did not have scientific knowledge, many did believe that warts had some kind of contagious nature to them. Cauterization was attempted as a cure for warts dating as far back as ancient medical texts. Although not a physician, during the time period of approximately 14-34 A.D. Aulus Cornelius Celsus described potential treatments for warts in his text “De Medicina” (On Medicine). The knowledge of warts as a sexually-transmitted disease goes as far back as the Greek and Roman physicians.
Throughout history, knowledge and theory have mixed together for some rather unusual treatment methods. Attempts to remove warts have ranged from the pointless to the bizarre, and included nearly every possibility in between. One of the first known methods of wart removal was in ancient Rome, where an unnamed individual chewed these growths off people’s fingers and feet.
In medieval times, a preferred method for getting rid of warts was spider webs. Still later, people used a method of ashes and pig feces. Later yet, some believed that to cover a wart with a portion of a rotting, dead mouse would aid in clearing up warts. Sir Francis Bacon claimed that he was able to cure warts with melted pig’s fat. It can be assumed that none of these methods were helpful in getting rid of warts. However, King Henry VIII of England granted legal status to anyone who wished to employ odd techniques for wart removal.
In the scientific and medical arenas, the correlation between sexually-transmitted warts and a virual cause began to become acknowledged in the 1920s. This correlation was not fully accepted until a study began in 1954, based on American military who had served in the Korean war bringing genital warts back to the United States and transmitting them to their wives.