'Tree Man' Abul Bajandar Is Back in the Hospital. What Is Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis?
A 28-year-old man from Bangladesh named Abul Bajandar has recently made headlines again after first gaining attention in 2016 for a rare skin condition that transforms skin to look like thick tree branches. Unfortunately, Bajandar is back in the hospital to treat his worsening (and spreading) condition after already having 25 surgeries since 2016.
While he’s been dubbed “tree man,” his skin condition is actually known and studied—it’s called epidermodysplasia verruciformis, and the “branches” forming are actually made up of warts. Here is everything you need to know about the skin condition epidermodysplasia verruciformis.
What is epidermodysplasia verruciformis?
“Epidermodysplasia verruciformis (or EV), at its most simplistic level, is an inability of the body's immune system to mount a normal response to human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes warts,” says board-certified dermatologist Whitney High, MD, director of dermatopathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. “In particular, it seems to involve a response to certain strains of the virus—there are well over 100 different strains.”
What causes EV?
Before you freak out, epidermodysplasia verruciformis is not contagious—it’s genetic. “It is important to understand you cannot ‘catch’ this disease from the ‘tree man’ or from anyone else,” Dr. High says. “Warts and HPV are contagious, but EV involves the body's response to the virus, and in the case of EV, that is an inherited problem.”
It’s also extremely rare, but there are “at least a couple similar cases here in the United States and abroad,” says Dr. High. According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, it’s still unknown exactly how many people have EV; more than 200 cases have been reported so far.
While the bark-like lesions themselves aren’t painful, they may cause pain as their heavy weight pulls on the skin, Dr. High says.
EV also increases a person’s risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, he adds.
How is EV treated?
There’s no cure for epidermodysplasia verruciformis, but treatments are available. In Bajandar’s case, Dr. High says, it sounds like the goal is to surgically remove as much of the visible disease as possible. “In other cases, particularly in the U.S., doctors may try to stimulate the immune system response to the HPV virus,” he says. This is done using medications like interferons, which are versions of proteins made naturally by the body. “I have done this myself in some patients,” he adds.
Hopefully Bajandar's story not only gets him the help he needs for his condition but brings more awareness to his rare disease. “Please understand this tragic case is a rarity, which is not common or infectious,” Dr. High says. “[Dermatologists] want to do everything we can to help this man.”
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