A Terrifying Disease That Will Turn You Into a Tree

In Greek mythology, a beautiful naiad nymph
named Daphne captured the eye of Apollo, the God of light. Apollo made many advances towards Daphne,
but she rejected him multiple times. Still, like a guy wearing a fedora on a mission,
he wouldn’t give up. He chased after her, which pushed Daphne to
cry to her father, the river god, for help. In response, the river god used the power
of metamorphosis to turn Daphne into a tree. It is believed that this bodily sacrifice
was the only way Daphne could escape Apollo’s aggressive advances. Though this is a story based on classic myth,
it is not that far beyond truth. Indeed, there are cases in real life in which
people can turn into trees. We’re talking about an extremely rare condition
known as Tree Man Syndrome, which actually turns people into living, breathing pieces
of bark! Tree Man Syndrome is a crude term given to
a disease otherwise known as Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis. This condition is not to be confused with
Stone Man Syndrome, though we do have a separate episode about that if you want to check it
out. Rather, Tree Man Syndrome is a disease with
a very bizarre symptom- the development of bark-like growths stemming from mostly the
hands and feet of a person’s body, not the full body like Apollo’s Daphne. The disease is a recessive inherited skin
disorder caused by an infection of human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV has numerous subtypes that tend to cause
different kinds of viral warts and Tree Man Syndrome stems from one of these subtypes. In most people with the virus, there may be
minimal effect. But for those with an impaired immune response
to HPV, the development of bark-like warts may occur. That’s right, the tree-like branches stemming
from the hands and feet are actually warts! Obviously, they’re not the typical kind
of warts that you may commonly see, but, rather, a unique type of wart that is incredibly rare. So, who tends to get the disease? Well, as we just mentioned, Tree Man Syndrome
is a recessive inherited disorder. What this basically means is that the sufferer
gained an abnormal Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis, or EV gene, from both biological, blood-relative
parents, which causes a defect in the immune system, increasing one’s susceptibility
to HPV. The EV gene can also often be caused by a
mutation on chromosome 17. This particular mutation damages a cell’s
capacity to fight off HPV infections. The tree-like lesions usually begin to form
and appear during childhood, persisting into adulthood. It is estimated that about 7.5% of cases first
appear in infancy, 61.5% emerge in children around the ages of 5 through 11, and 22.5%
of cases start during puberty. It is a disease that impacts both males and
females from people of all races and backgrounds. Though mainly genetic, EV can be acquired. Acquired EV tends to occur from HIV infection,
organ transplantation or a lymphoma. Though it is contagious, this lifelong disease
only expresses itself in people whose bodies can’t fight it off. For those who do get it, the warts can be
incredibly painful, and the worst part is that there’s no cure for it. Surgery has been used in cases in the past
to remove the lesions and it can be successful, but it offers only a temporary solution to
the problem. This is because the bark-like lesions tend
to grow back. If you’re getting paranoid now about catching
the disease, allow us to reassure you by reaffirming just how rare the condition really is. Whereas Stone Man Syndrome occurs in about
1 in every 2 million people worldwide, Tree Man Syndrome is far less prevalent. Scientists don’t know the exact number of
cases. But, according to ABC news as of January 2019,
the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, otherwise known as GARD, estimates
that there are only about 200 reported cases of Tree Man Syndrome worldwide. Now that’s a very small number. Thus, you can rest assured that your odds
of having it or acquiring the disease are very slim. Not convinced? Allow us to add some perspective on the situation. Considering that there are around 7.7 billion
people on the planet with only a rough estimate of 200 reported cases of those with the condition,
you have greater odds of being attacked by a shark than developing Tree Man Syndrome. The odds of getting attacked by a shark in
your lifetime, by the way, are roughly 1 in 3 to 4 million. You are also more likely to die from fireworks,
be struck by lightning, or see your grandma naked – oh, the horror! That last one may be the worst. You clearly would not want to be one of the
very few unfortunate people to get Tree Man Syndrome. It is one impediment that can be incredibly
frustrating and awful to contend with. One well known case of Tree Man Syndrome comes
from a 28-year-old Bangladeshi man. He had multiple operations in 2016 and had
to return for more surgery in early 2019. As you may imagine, the disease can be extremely
burdensome. With the condition, the man could not perform
simple tasks and needed help eating, drinking and taking a shower. Imagine trying to play video games or trying
to hold the leash to take your dog for a walk when you have branches for hands. With this in mind, the man was quoted by CNN
saying, “I want to live like a normal person. I just want to be able to hold my daughter
properly and hug her.” He had at least 16 surgical procedures in
the past to remove growths, some that weighed as much as 11 pounds! It may not seem like much but try carrying
that amount of weight around with you when the coach tells you to run a lap around the
track during gym class. Then tell us how you feel afterwards. The first known female case of Tree Man Syndrome
came from 10-year-old Sahana Khatun reported in 2017, another sufferer from Bangladesh. She also went through surgery to remove the
bark-like growths from her chin, ear and nose. Thankfully, doctors are optimistic that the
warts won’t regrow. This is believed to be because Khatun was
in the very early stages of the disease when she had the surgery. Obviously, she and her father were delighted
by the news that further surgeries may not be necessary for the young girl. You may have seen this condition shown in
popular culture as topics of interest in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Nip/Tuck. References in media have helped spread awareness
about this rare, mysterious disease while expressing the difficulty that these sufferers
have to endure. Activities like finding a good position to
sleep in, walking, and even simply just moving properly are made all the more challenging
when you have branches for hands. Think of Edward Scissor Hands except far less
dangerous because at least you’re not walking around with hands possessing sharp, pointy
tips. Still, individuals suffering with the disease
also have to deal with the incredibly heavy toll taken on their mental health and wellbeing. Consider the negative stigma associated with
the disease. People who have it probably have to live with
the awareness of their difference every day, witnessing the shocked and horrified faces
of people walking by. It is enough to make anyone feel out of place
and ashamed. With heightened awareness of the disease through
media comes the interest to explore more scientific research related to this and other rare diseases. Even though it is only impacting a very small
portion of the population, it is important to consider the quality of life for those
who are unfortunate enough to have it. After all, if it were you, you’d probably
want scientists working to find a solution for you too. Research into rare diseases like Tree Man
Syndrome can also help further our overall understanding of biological and chemical mechanisms
while improving medical advances for other genetic disorders. As quoted in the Rare Disease Review, “a
cure for an individual helps us understand the cure for many more.” What would you do if you suddenly had Tree
Man Syndrome? Tell us in the comments! Now to make yourself even more worried about
terrible things that can happen to the body go watch What Is Stone Man Syndrome?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
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