CLOSE
Galeria de Léo Pinheiro via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Galeria de Léo Pinheiro via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Blue People

Galeria de Léo Pinheiro via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Galeria de Léo Pinheiro via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There have always been tales of blue people in mythology, popular fiction, and in the news. Yes, blue people exist here and there in the real world.

Two conditions cause people to live and be (literally) blue. Methemoglobinemia is a condition in which the blood carries less-than-normal amounts of oxygen, making the blood appear blue. Argyria is caused by the ingestion of silver, usually for medicinal purposes. The effects of silver ingestion are permanent, and if the consumption of silver continues long enough, can be fatal.
432fugate.jpg

Methemoglobinemia can be acquired through use of certain drugs, or can be inherited through the presence of recessive genes. There have been reports of blue families or tribes through history that could be explained by inherited Methemoglobinemia. The best-documented of these is the Blue Fugates of Kentucky.

200bluepeople.jpgMartin Fugate emigrated from France in 1820 and married Elizabeth Smith, a Kentucky native. Apparently, both had the very rare recessive gene for Methemoglobinemia. Four of their seven children were blue! They lived in an isolated area of eastern Kentucky and their children grew up and married those who lived close to them, meaning a very few families in the area, or even their own cousins. One Fugate son married his mother's younger sister. Over several generations of intermarriage within these same few clans, the recessive genes were preserved and the Fugates came to be known as the Blue Fugates. The exact reason for their color wasn't known until medical tests were conducted in the 1960s. In the early 80s, only three blue members of the Fugate family were reported surviving.

432Walters.jpg

Before the advent of antibiotics, silver nitrate and colloidal silver were used as antiseptics. Captain Fred Walters was prescribed silver as a remedy for locomotor ataxia, a degenerative neural disease. It  turned his skin so blue that by 1891, he was exhibiting himself at side shows for profit. At the time, the poisonous effects of silver were unknown. Walters continued to take silver to maintain his profitable blue coloring until his heart gave out in 1923. He had essentially died of silver poisoning.
432agyriawarning.jpg

Because of "products containing silver, which have flooded the market in past years", the state of Florida posted a warning that silver is unsafe to consume. Accompanying the warning are these photos of a victim of argyria, shown beside a healthy man to highlight the difference in color. Online information on the safety and efficacy of colloidal silver supplements varies from "no side effects at all" to "unsafe and ineffective", depending on where the funding comes from. The FDA says such products are not judged to be safe.
432jacobs.jpg

Rosemary Jacobs began using nose drops containing colloidal silver when she was 11 years old. Within a few years, her skin had turned blue. Despite discontinuing the use of colloidal silver, Jacobs face remained blue for decades, as particles of silver were embedded in her skin and organs. In the 70s (after this picture was taken), Jacobs underwent dermabrasion treatments, which removed the top layers of her skin. She now has blotchy pink skin. Jacobs is campaigning against colloidal silver dietary supplements because of what happened to her.
432karason.jpg

Paul Karason began using colloidal silver 15 years ago. He believes his blue skin was caused by rubbing the concoction on his skin to treat dermatitis, and not by drinking it. Karason, who is sometimes referred to as "Papa Smurf" continues to drink colloidal silver as a cure-all. See a video report here.
432Jones.jpg

Montana Libertarian Stan Jones was an unsuccessful candidate for the US Senate in 2002 and in 2006. He is also a victim of argyria. Jones began using colloidal silver he made himself in anticipation of antibiotic shortages predicted from the Y2K scare. He continues to take colloidal silver and believes in its health benefits.

There are other conditions that can cause the skin to turn blue, usually due to lack of oxygen, but serious cyanosis must be treated immediately and is not a condition people can just "live with". And then there are people who go the extra mile to appear blue.
PaintedFans.jpg

arrow
History
How an Early Female Travel Writer Became an Immunization Pioneer
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a British aristocrat, feminist, and writer who was famed for her letters. If that were all she did, she would be a slightly obscure example of a travel writer and early feminist. But she was also an important public health advocate who is largely responsible for the adoption of inoculation against smallpox—one of the earliest forms of immunization—in England.

Smallpox was a scourge right up until the mid-20th century. Caused by two strains of Variola virus, the disease had a mortality rate of up to 35 percent. If you lived, you were left with unsightly scars, and possible complications such as severe arthritis and blindness.

Lady Montagu knew smallpox well: Her brother died of it at the age of 20, and in late 1715, she contracted the disease herself. She survived, but her looks did not; she lost her eyelashes and was left with deeply pitted skin on her face.

When Lady Montagu’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed ambassador to Turkey the year after her illness, she accompanied him and took up residence in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The lively letters she wrote home described the world of the Middle East to her English friends and served for many as an introduction to Muslim society.

One of the many things Lady Montagu wrote home about was the practice of variolation, a type of inoculation practiced in Asia and Africa likely starting around the 15th or 16th century. In variolation, a small bit of a pustule from someone with a mild case of smallpox is placed into one or more cuts on someone who has not had the disease. A week or so later, the person comes down with a mild case of smallpox and is immune to the disease ever after.

Lady Montagu described the process in a 1717 letter:

"There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nuts-hell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much matter as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after that binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark; and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness."

So impressed was Lady Montagu by the effectiveness of variolation that she had a Scottish doctor who worked at the embassy, Charles Maitland, variolate her 5-year-old son in 1718 with the help of a local woman. She returned to England later that same year. In 1721, a smallpox epidemic hit London, and Montagu had Maitland (who by then had also returned to England) variolate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of several prominent doctors. Maitland later ran an early version of a clinical trial of the procedure on six condemned inmates in Newgate Prison, who were promised their freedom if they took part in the experiment. All six lived, and those later exposed to smallpox were immune. Maitland then repeated the experiment on a group of orphaned children with the same results.

A painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Art UK // CC BY-NC-ND

But the idea of purposely giving someone a disease was not an easy sell, especially since about 2 or 3 percent of people who were variolated still died of smallpox (either because the procedure didn’t work, or because they caught a different strain than the one they had been variolated with). In addition, variolated people could also spread the disease while they were infectious. Lady Montagu also faced criticism because the procedure was seen as “Oriental,” and because of her gender.

But from the start, Lady Montagu knew that getting variolation accepted would be an uphill battle. In the same letter as her first description of the practice, she wrote:

"I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England; and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them."

As promised, Lady Montagu promoted variolation enthusiastically, encouraging the parents in her circle, visiting convalescing patients, and publishing an account of the practice in a London newspaper. Through her influence, many people, including members of the royal family, were inoculated against smallpox, starting with two daughters of the Princess of Wales in 1722. Without her advocacy, scholars say, variolation might never have caught on and smallpox would have been an even greater menace than it was. The famed poet Alexander Pope said that for her, immortality would be "a due reward" for "an action which all posterity may feel the advantage of," namely the "world’s being freed from the future terrors of the small-pox."

Variolation was performed in England for another 70 years, until Edward Jenner introduced vaccination using cowpox in 1796. Vaccination was instrumental in finally stopping smallpox: In 1980, it became the first (and so far, only) human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
iStock
iStock

Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios