Tree Man has warts. Also, Jackalopes.

A different tree man entirely: But he may also have HPV.
A different tree man entirely: But he may also have HPV.Courtesy Esther17
First of all, the photo posted here has nothing to do with the story. It’s just something to look at. What you should do is go to the original article, and look long and hard at the pictures there. Then you’ll have a nice visual reference, as well as something to keep you awake for the rest of your life.

But here’s the story: ever since a teenage accident in which he received a cut on the knee, an Indonesian man has been growing bizarre root-like projections from his hands and feet. Seriously, check out that link. For years, doctors could make neither heads nor tales of the 35-year-old man’s condition.

One would like to imagine that root hands and feet would be accompanied with super powers (super strength, nourishment from the ground, the ability to tear down the walls of Isengard, etc.), but this man had no such luck. Instead, his wife left him, and he’s no longer able to use his hands for much of anything (not exactly super powers).

Recently, however, a dermatological specialist from the University of Maryland traveled to the man’s village to examine his case. After testing his blood and samples of the growths, the doctor has concluded that the “roots” are in fact lesions caused by HPV, the Human papillomavirus. They’re warts, more or less.

HPV gets some attention here on Science Buzz, but usually in reference to its association with cervical cancer. Fortunately, this is a little different, and a lot more rare. The HPV is a normal strain, but this particular guy has a genetic fault that impedes his immune system (so much so that the doctor initially thought that he might have the AIDS), and prevents his body from containing the warts. So they just kept on growing, to the point where they could be considered “cutaneous horns.”

Cutaneous horns don’t generally develop past normal warts on humans, obviously. However, Cottontail rabbit papillomavirus (yes, a real thing, which I will mentally file next to Wobbly hedgehog syndrome) can cause that sort of thing on rabbits. Advanced CRPV (also known as shope papillomavirus) can even look like little bunny horns, or antlers, which probably gave rise to the legend (if you want to call it that) of the Jackalope. The SMM had a stuffed rabbit with shope papillomavirus on display recently, but if you missed it you can check out some pictures here.

In the case of the “Tree Man,” the doctor thinks that daily doses of synthesized vitamin A (often used for severe cases of HPV) should clear up the bulk of the growths, and the more resilient warts could be removed by freezing or surgery. It’s unlikely that the man will ever have a completely “normal” body, but hopefully this treatment should allow him use of his hands again.

Isn’t that all unusual?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is the root hand and feet true? Does that really caused by HPV? What's the rate that HPV can result in root hand and feet? I have ever heard about it at a HPV dating site named, but the member failed to prove his story by providing a photo and the original of the story. So I don't believe it.

posted on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 12:47am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Hey there,

As far as I can tell from the article, yes, it is true, and HPV was the cause of the bizarre growths. However, the man in the story has a greatly impaired immune system because of an extremely rare genetic condition, and that's what allowed the HPV virus to get so out of control. HPV does not effect most people that way. I couldn't tell you the rate at which HPV can result in something like that, but I'd assume that it's just a tiny fraction of a percent.

In the first paragraph of the story there's a link attached to the phrase "original article." It goes to the original article, if you can believe it, and there are some pictures there, as well as a little video footage. It seems like a legitimate source, but I guess you never know.

posted on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 4:18pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i thought english majors were supposed to know the difference between the words "effect" and "affect". shame on you, jgordon. your hamline education failed you.

posted on Sun, 02/10/2008 - 11:38am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

ok seriously what is wrong with this man! He obviously has some serious issues to work out in rehabilitation! no offence or anything...yeah well you guys need a cat or something maybe a dog! Remember eat your vegatibles and drink your milk!

posted on Sat, 02/09/2008 - 5:37pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

If you missed it, keep checking TLC's broadcast schedule for "Half Man Half Tree" on "My Shocking Story."

posted on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 4:05pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

For those of you who check this post regularly—

Gene pointed me towards this long-awaited Tree Man update: Dede Koswara (the tree man himself) is recovering after having 4 pounds of roots/warts removed. He's now able to see the outline of his toes, and hold things with his hands. Dede has a couple more surgeries planned, and will be monitored to ensure that the warts don't grow back, but he's feeling better, and has high hopes for a job and a special lady friend. He's also into sudoku these days, something we can all relate to.

posted on Thu, 08/14/2008 - 8:49am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Things continue to look up for Dede.

posted on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:07am

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