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Duct Tape Sticks It to Warts

Silver miracle bests liquid nitrogen at wart removal

MONDAY, Oct. 14, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Next time your kid has a wart, consider heading to Home Depot before hitting CVS.

That's because do-it-all duct tape appears to be the best bet for getting rid of the pesky lesions, according to a new study by researchers in Washington.

The common wart, or Verruca vulgaris, occurs in between 5 percent and 10 percent of children and in a smaller percentage of adults. The standard treatment is freezing with drops of liquid nitrogen, or cryotherapy. This procedure can be effective, but it can demand months of repeated, painful applications that are scary to many children and can sometimes lead to blisters and infections. Also, a recent study found that cryotherapy worked no better than the active ingredient in Compound W.

"When we started the study we were just hoping to find some type of method less threatening to kids that would work as well" as freezing, says Dr. Dean R. Focht III, who led the study while at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma. "It was nice to see that [duct tape] was statistically better than the cryotherapy."

Focht and his colleagues report their results in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The researchers believe that covering warts with duct tape creates an area of localized irritation on the skin. Since warts are essentially benign viral tumors, drawing the attention of the immune system can suppress the microbes and allow the lesions to heal.

Focht, now a gastric disease fellow at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, and his colleagues compared duct tape treatment and freezing in 61 children and young adults, aged 3 to 22, with warts on their hands, feet and other body parts. Ten patients dropped out of the study before the end.

Roughly half the group received cryotherapy every two to three weeks for a maximum of six treatments. The rest had their warts patched with duct tape. They were told to leave the tape on for six days, then remove the patch, soak the wart in water and brush away the dying skin with an emery board or a pumice stone. After leaving the tape off overnight, they applied a new patch and repeated the ritual for no more than two months.

At the end of the study, 85 percent of the patients in the tape group saw their warts vanish, compared with 60 percent of those who received cryotherapy. Nearly three quarters of the taped warts were gone within four weeks, but those that didn't go away typically showed no improvement after two weeks of treatment.

Some parents reported that while their child had tape over only one wart, other warts disappeared, too. That jibes with the theory that the tape rallies the immune system and routs the viral infection all over, Focht says.

The new study is particularly sweet for Cleveland dermatologist Jerome Litt, who if not the first doctor to tape a wart is almost certainly the first to call the technique "Ducto-therapy."

Litt said he started applying tape to warts in 1951 while a medical resident in Brooklyn, N.Y. He did it then half on a hunch that warts needed air to survive, and half to mollify a desperate woman who'd been unable to rid herself of a lesion for a decade.

The approach worked, and it worked again, and since then Litt's been prescribing it routinely to his patients. "It's painless, it's inexpensive, it leaves no scars, and it's effective," says Litt, who wrote a paper in 1978 that was the first to cite the method.

Litt's early attempts used adhesive tape, but he switched to duct tape after a colleague told him it worked well. For a time he paid his children to write "Special Wart Tape" on the rolls to give them an aura of authority.

Indeed, Litt's convinced that while the powers of "Ducto-therapy" have a biological basis, much of the reason it works is psychological. "If you believe it and the kid believes it and the parents believe it, I think it works," he says. "Some doctors think it's snake oil, but I've been vindicated."

What To Do

To find out more about warts, visit the American Academy of Dermatology or the Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

This should put to rest any doubt as to how versatile duct tape is. You can get some ideas on using it to make Halloween costumes from Duct Tape Guys.

SOURCES: Dean R. Focht III, M.D., fellow, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; Jerome Litt, M.D., Cleveland; October 2002 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
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