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Can Duct Tape Be Used to Treat Warts?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

This question probably originated at the possum lodge. Strangely enough, the answer is yes! Skin warts are growths caused by a viral infection confined to the top layer of the skin. Certain types of Human Papilloma viruses (HPV) cause it. There are over 100 types of Papilloma viruses. This virus family is perhaps the most common to cause infections in humans. For the most part, these viruses happily co-exist on us. How they are able to look benign to our immune system is of considerable interest. Certain members of this group are also responsible for the more troublesome genital warts. These are yet different sub-types and have been implicated with cervical cancer. A vaccine for HPV is in clinical trials and may be available soon.

There are three types of skin warts. Verruca Vulgaris refers to the common wart found on the fingers and hands. They have a cauliflower type of appearance, bleed when filed and have black dots in the middle representing small clotted blood vessels. Plantar warts are found on the soles of the feet, and can cause pain when walked on. Flat warts are thinner and are found in many areas. Warts are transmitted from person to person when the virus finds its way under the skin through microscopic abrasions and breaks. Some people have immunity to warts, and children seem to be more susceptible to warts. Thankfully, most will spontaneously regress in months to years.

There are many treatments available. Most work, but many are amusing folklore anecdotes that produce cures coinciding with spontaneous regression. Salicylic acid gel is the main ingredient in many over the counter treatments. It needs to be applied daily for weeks and does work. Doctors sometimes paint the wart with cantharidin or podophyllin that produce blistering and cause the wart to fall off in layers. Cryotherapy involves applying sub-zero liquid nitrogen onto the wart in repeated fashion. Electrosurgery is an older method of freezing the wart and surrounding area, followed by burning the wart off with a cautery iron. Laser is used in its place nowadays. Sometimes warts are injected with anticancer drugs such as bleomycin or interferon to produce self-destruction. In Ontario, OHIP only allows for treatment of plantar warts.

In a small U.S. study of 50 persons, the application of Duct Tape was compared to Cryotherapy. Patients were instructed to keep the wart covered for six days, soak the wart and file it with an emery board. New tape was applied 12 hours later. The whole process was repeated for up to two months. 85% of the warts disappeared, results comparable to Cryotherapy. So just when you ran out of uses for the handyman's helper along comes another one. Keep your stick on the ice!

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