Papillomavirus DNA has been reported recently in the vapor (smoke plume) derived from warts treated with carbon dioxide laser; this raises concerns for operator safety. We therefore have studied a group of human and bovine warts to define further the potential risk of wart therapy and to test whether a surgical mask could reduce exposure. Half of each wart was treated with carbon dioxide laser and the other half with electrocoagulation. The vapor produced by each form of therapy was collected with a dry filter vacuum apparatus and analyzed for the presence of papillomavirus. Vapor from human plantar warts was analyzed for the presence of human papillomavirus DNA, because there is no infectivity assay for human papillomavirus. Of plantar warts treated, five of eight laser-derived vapors and four of seven electrocoagulation-derived vapors were positive for human papillomavirus DNA. Greater amounts of papillomavirus DNA were usually recovered in the laser vapor than in the electrocoagulation vapor from the same wart. Bioassay readily detected infectious bovine papillomavirus in the vapor from bovine warts treated with either modality; more virus was present in laser-derived material. A surgical mask was found capable of removing virtually all laser- or electrocoagulation-derived virus, strongly suggesting that such masks can protect operators from potential inhalation exposure to papillomavirus.