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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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Medicine
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

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science
Eye Doctors Still Use This 100-Year-Old Test for Color Blindness

You may have seen them at your ophthalmologist's office: large circular diagrams made up of colored dots. People with normal vision are able to discern a number among the dots of contrasting colors. People who are color blind might see only a field of spots.

These elegant, deceptively modern drawings were published 100 years ago by a Japanese ophthalmologist, Shinobu Ishihara. Thanks to the designs' simplicity and diagnostic accuracy, the Ishihara test is still the most popular and efficient way to identify patients with color vision deficiencies.

Born in Tokyo in 1879, Ishihara studied medicine at the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University on a military scholarship, which required him to serve in the armed forces. After graduating in 1905, he worked for three years as a physician specializing in surgery in the Imperial Japanese Army, and then returned to the university for postgraduate studies in ophthalmology. In his research, Ishihara focused on identifying and recruiting soldiers with superior vision, thereby increasing the overall effectiveness of the military. And that became of prime importance to Japan beginning in 1914.

As World War I spread across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, the Japanese army asked Ishihara to develop a better way to screen draftees for color vision problems. The most popular method at the time was the Stilling test, invented by German ophthalmologist Jakob Stilling in 1878 as the first clinical color vision test. (Previous tools had asked patients to identify the colors of wool skeins or illuminated lanterns—useful skills for sailors and railway conductors, but an imprecise method for diagnosing vision issues.)

"Though popular, 'the Stilling' retained a distinctly 19th-century flavor, more treatise-like and less diagnostically incisive," according to Eye magazine.


Shinobu Ishihara
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Japanese army officials requested a new diagnostic tool that was easier to administer and interpret. The test Ishihara began to develop was based, like Stilling's, on the principle of pseudo-isochromatism—a phenomenon in which two or more colors are seen as the same (or isochromatic) when they're actually different. A person with normal vision could easily see the difference, while people with red-green deficiency, the most common form of color blindness, would have difficulty distinguishing those two opposing colors. Those with blue-yellow color blindness, a less common type, would have a hard time discerning reds, greens, blues, or yellows.

Ishihara hand-painted circular designs comprised of small dots of different areas and colors so that variations in the design could be discerned only by color and not shape, size, or pattern. Hidden in the field of dots was a figure of a contrasting color that people with normal vision could see, while those with deficiencies could not. Other plates in the series were designed to show figures that would be visible only to people with deficiencies. When physicians displayed the diagrams, patients said or traced the visible figure within the circle without needing to use ambiguous color names, which standardized the possible results.

The earliest sets of Ishihara plates, produced in 1916, were reserved exclusively for the army's use and featured Japanese characters within the diagrams. In 1917, in an effort to sell the series internationally, Ishihara redesigned it with the now-familiar Arabic numerals and published a set of 16 plates as Tests for Colour Deficiency.

The tests were adopted throughout the world beginning in the early 1920s, and eventually grew into a set of 38 plates. But their popularity almost led to their undoing. Unauthorized publishers printed their own version of the plates to meet demand, throwing the accuracy of the diagnostic colors into doubt. "The plates have been duplicated along with an easily memorized key by cheap color processes in the tabloid press, and exposed in public places, reducing the fifth edition [of the collection] to a parlor game," one psychologist warned in the Journal of the Optical Society of America in 1943.

Despite those obstacles, the tests proved indispensable for both practicing physicians and researchers. Ishihara continued to refine the designs and improve the color accuracy of the images into the late 1950s, while he also served as the chair of the ophthalmology department and then dean of the medical school at Tokyo Imperial University. In addition to Tests for Colour Deficiency, he also published an atlas, textbook, lectures, and research studies on eye diseases. But he is remembered most for the iconic charts that seamlessly blend art and science.

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