A Tale of the Tape, Warts and All

Aside from possibly helping protect people from terrorist attacks, duct tape -- the once lowly stalwart of home repair -- apparently has another unappreciated use: wart removal.

Doctors at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., tested duct tape in a study of 51 patients ages 3 to 22 whose warts were to be removed by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.

Instead, half the patients had their warts covered with duct tape continuously for six days, then uncovered, soaked in water, left uncovered for 12 hours and then covered again. This was repeated until the wart disappeared.

The method worked better than freezing, having a success rate of 85 percent vs. 60 percent, the researchers reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

How the duct tape method works is unclear, though it may cause a slight irritation that prompts the immune system to attack and destroy the wart.

However it works, patients reported liking the approach because it was fairly painless, very inexpensive and could be done easily at home.

-- Rob Stein

Parasites Have Plant-Like Genes

A deadly family of parasites that poses a serious health threat to a half-billion people around the world is closely related to the plant kingdom, scientists have found, suggesting that researchers might have a good shot at killing the bugs by making experimental medicines that resemble herbicides.

The parasites, known as trypanosomes, are single-celled creatures that cause debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases in people, livestock and plants.

One type, transmitted by the tsetse fly, causes African sleeping sickness, which takes a huge toll on people and animals in Saharan Africa. Other types cause leishmaniasis, a disfiguring skin disease found in the tropics, and Chagas' disease in Latin America.

Researchers in Belgium and Brussels analyzed genetic sequences from trypanosomes and ran those strings of molecular code through computer programs that compare such codes to others retrieved from other organisms.

To the researchers' surprise, several genes in the parasites bore a striking resemblance to genes that others have found in the so-called plastids of various green plants. Plastids are tiny organs that contain the biochemical machinery for performing photosynthesis. Scientists suspect plastids were once free-living photosynthetic entities that eventually moved inside cells, where they enjoyed the comforts of being "indoors" and in return offered those cells an ability to derive energy from sunlight.

The new evidence of plant-like genes in the parasites, described in the Feb. 4 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that plants and trypanosomes had a common evolutionary heritage.

-- Rick Weiss

Medical Errors and Children

Children with serious medical problems are more likely to experience medical errors in hospitals, according to the first comprehensive study of the issue.

Medical errors have been in the spotlight lately, after Duke University doctors botched a heart-and-lung transplant procedure on Jesica Santillan, 17, who suffered from a chronic heart condition. After a second transplant, the teenager died Feb. 22 from complications following surgery.

The new study indicates that nationwide, children with serious problems such as cystic fibrosis or cancer experience three times as many medical mistakes as children with more benign problems. Most of the mistakes involve medical procedures -- doctors using devices such as breathing tubes or diagnostic scopes during surgery or with anesthesia, said Jill Joseph, professor of pediatrics at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

Joseph is one of the authors of a new study that is being released today by the journal Pediatrics.

It is not clear whether the error rates are higher because very sick children spend more time in hospitals -- thereby increasing the risk of mistakes -- or because their care is more complex.

The study also found that boys, children from wealthier households and those treated in urban hospitals had higher rates of medical errors. Joseph said that could be because boys tended to suffer more injuries that require surgery. Wealthier families tend to get more elective surgery, she said, and urban hospitals tend to see more complex cases.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Patients in a study reported liking the duct tape method of removing warts because it was fairly painless, inexpensive and could be done at home.The tsetse fly transmits a type of parasite known as trypanosomes, which causes debilitating illnesses.