Licking Cystic Fibrosis Patients’ Skin
“The child will soon die whose brow tastes salty when kissed.” So runs a rather morbid line from a 19th-century children’s almanac. The book didn’t say why this should be so, but we now know that the cause of a salty-tasting child was most likely cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis is a fairly common genetic disease which affects the lungs, pancreas, and digestive tract. A mutation alters the way that many secretions are made in the body, creating a whole range of medical complications. One of the secretions which is changed is sweat. In people with cystic fibrosis, it is unusually salty. Many parents who kiss their child may have detected this difference.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, writers of folk wisdom declared that salty skin was a symptom of bewitching. They may have gotten the cause wrong, but the results were much the same. Before modern medicine, the lives of those with cystic fibrosis were universally short.
Sniffing Out Parkinson’s
We’ve already seen how capable dogs are at smelling diseases, but it turns out that the human nose may be just as useful in detecting medical problems. Joy Milne’s husband was a sufferer of Parkinson’s disease. This degenerative illness of the nervous system leaves people unable to control their movements. But six years before her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Joy knew something was different. She could smell it.
Occasionally, she would smell something she described as a “musty” aroma from her husband, but she didn’t really think anything of it. It was only after joining a charity for Parkinson’s disease and finding that many others with the condition smelled the same to her that she mentioned it to scientists. Intrigued, they tested her. They gave her 12 T-shirts, six that had been worn by people with Parkinson’s and six worn by those without. The initial result was 11 out of 12. Joy identified all of the Parkinson’s patients but also swore that she could detect it in one member of the control group. Mere months later, that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
The scientists are now trying to identify what the compound is that Joy Milne is able to smell in hopes of making a clinical test which will allow early detection of the disease.
Red Eyes In Photos
Many digital cameras these days come equipped with the ability to remove “red eyes” from photos. Red eyes are caused by the camera flash being reflected off the blood-rich retina at the back of the eye. It can be annoying, but it is, in fact, a sign of good health.
Tara Taylor posted a photo of her young daughter on Facebook, which showed her with one red eye and the other glowing yellow. Concerned friends pushed her to take her daughter to a doctor. The doctors discovered that the child had Coats’ disease, a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels of the eye that can cause blindness. Thanks to catching it early, doctors were able save her sight.
Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina which mostly affects children and can also be detected by looking at how the eyes react to a camera flash. While Coats’ disease looks yellow, retinoblastomas look white. So next time a picture of your child comes out with two red eyes, consider it a blessing.
Pregnancy Tests—For Men
We saw how rabbits and frogs were used to detect the hormone hCG to tell if women were pregnant. Modern pregnancy tests look for the same hormone. Given how rarely men get pregnant, you can understand how shocked one man was when he used a pregnancy test, and it came back positive.
It’s not known why the man used a pregnancy test he found in his cabinet, but when he got the surprising result, he told a friend. That friend, known only as “CappnPoopdeck,” decided to make her friend’s experience into a comic and posted it to Reddit. Along with the usual jokes, one commenter suggested that the man go to see a doctor. Men producing hCG may have testicular cancer. Doctors did indeed find a small tumor, and the man was treated while it was still at an early stage.
Not all testicular cancers produce hGC, but giving men pregnancy tests can be a useful way of detecting tumors at an early stage. A British teenager with an unknown cancer was advised to use a pregnancy test, which revealed his testicular cancer in 2015. Now there is even more reason for men to fear a positive pregnancy test.