Could 1491 Solve the Swine Flu Mystery?

I recently wrote a review of a great book that I am re-reading these days: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. And today I realized that it might contain an explanation for something that has recently rocketed to the top of the news: swine flu in Mexico.

Right now there is open speculation as to why some people are getting infected and others are not, why some people are getting very sick and others not. Some reports suggest more people in Mexico are getting more seriously infected than eslewhere. And here's where 1491 comes in.

Author Charles Mann reviews all manner of resarch as to why some diseases had such a devastating effect on Indian populations. One factor was  human leukocyte antigens or HLAs, an important part of the body's disease fighting systems. Humans fight disease better when they have a diversity of HLAs.

Most human groups have a "scatterbox mix" of HLAs but South American Indians have fewer HLA types than populations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In South America, according to one estimation, the minimum probability that a pathogen in one host will next encounter a host with a similar immune spectrum is about 28 percent. By comparison, in Europe the chance is less than 2 percent.

Now I'm sure that I'm over-simplifying here, but it would seem that there's an infection differential of 14X in there somewhere. While the population of Mexico is, in broad terms a mix of Europeans and Indians, it may well have less HLA diversity than the population of a melting pot like the United States. Which bodes well for the States, not so well for Mexico. I hope the World Health Organization is checking this out.

Earth Day Prizes? Check out my survey and win

Sounds cheesy but it's true. You could win an earth-friendly prize for taking a very short survey that I created on my technology blog here. The link is bit.ly/bagz which gives you a clue as to the prizes, and an easy way to share it.

Good luck!

Need Help Dealing With Hemochromatosis? Join THE list

Each time I blog about hemochromatosis I hear from people affected by this daunting and life-threatening condition. Often these people are frustrated with doctors failing to recognize the condition and with the slow pace of diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, if you are one of these people, there is a supportive community you can join, online, via email.

It's called The Excess Iron List, and it includes people from all over the world, people who are dealing with this condition, supporting each other through sharing their experiences. But before I give you the link for this, I want to point out that it is an email discussion list, not an online forum or chat room. That makes it one of the oldest means of getting together over the Internet.

If you haven't used one of these lists before it can seem a bit strange at first (just to be clear, when you join, you are NOT being put on a public mailing list to get unsolicited information--and the list is moderated by a person, not a machine). The basic operations, like joining the list or leaving it, are carried out by you sending blank email messages to a special email address. For example, to join you send a blank email to: ExcessIron-on@mail-list.com

Fortunately, when you do that, you will get a reply that explains how the system works. The big payoff is being able to share with other people who have an interest in iron overload. So, if you're interested click here for details of The Excess Iron List. The page is hosted at the Iron Disorders Institute, a reputable source for information about hemochromatosis.

On the Street Where I Was Born

Recently, on my technology blog, I wrote about the mixed reception that Google Street View has received in England, land of my birth. I admit to having mixed feelings about this technology myself.

It is very easy to be seduced by technology that enables me to sit in a cottage on a hill in the wilds of Upstate New York and capture this image of the street in England where I was born. (Just to clarify, I was not born in the street, but in one of the houses on this street--home birth by midwife being the normal practice in England in the 1950s.)

The most obvious change in the last 50 years is the number of cars on the street. There were  practically none when I was born. You could easily play 20 minutes of football in the road without being disturbed. Now there are too many vehicles, which is why many front gardens have been replaced with parking spaces--compare the original gardens on the left with the parking pads on the right. And so it goes...

Hemochromatosis Marches On: Now paging nurse-with-big-needle

Well, I went the whole month of March without blogging about hemochromatosis, more specifically, my wife's hereditary hemochromatosis or HH. However, March brought good news on the HH front: The blood-letting has begun!

(BTW, I trust people "got" that the image which accompanied my February post on phlebotomy was the barber's chair from Sweeney Todd.)

No fancy graphics this time, but I am hoping to capture video of what happens when the phlebotomist draws Chey's blood, so read on. Early in March a hematologist prescribed a course of 4 weekly blood draws (part of the delay was the fact that Chey collapsed on the way to her first appointment with this doctor).

At this point, 2 of the 4 have been done. We don't yet know the effect on her iron levels, but I'm guessing there is still a long way to go. Why? Because the phlebotomist has to brace herself against the chair to draw the second and third vial of blood.

That's right, even though Chey has been fitted with a port to facilitate the process, the blood is so thick it is hard to suck out. As far as the phlebotomist, a.k.a. nurse-with-big-needle, is concerned, this is a likely sign of excess iron in the blood.

In the meantime, efforts to assess, fix, and/or compensate for, the damage that HH has done to Chey's endocrine system are ongoing. Unfortunately this is very hit or miss at the moment. Some days she feels almost okay, but many more days she feels extremely fatigued, emotionally dizzy, and prone to hot flashes of Biblical intensity. This emotional dizziness means going from frantically alert and in danger of sleep drepivation, to mordantly comatose with generalized body pain, with outbreaks of uncontrolled weepiness in between. In other words, no fun at all, not to mention a real strain on the washing machine.*

But we're not giving up home on the phlebotomy treatment. The hope is that reducing the iron in Chey's system will enable some of the damaged or under-performing organs to rally and return to normal. After all, this is the year of Hope.

Ed: Sorry if the washing machine reference was a bit obscure. It comes from the fact that Chey has to change clothes many times a day when she gets these soaking sweat attacks. Think of cartoon sweat, squirting from a person's head...it's like that only for real. I kid you not.

Well That Was Fun: Monetate launches Smellr

There are many things I enjoy about working for Monetate and they all came together today: Cool technology, brilliant developers, cutting-edge digital artistry, crafty copy-writing, savvy leadership, and great camaraderie. All of this orchestrated in a concerted team effort to execute a good idea with skill, excellence, and a good laugh.

And we succeeded!

The web site Smellr got over 14,000 visitors. The Monetate Post-click Marketing Blog and the main Monetate web site both received at least 20 times the normal amount of traffic. We've been mentioned in the Associated Press, The Guardian, and many blogs, including blogs.com and the bostonist. We were even seen on CNN in the Netherlands!

I know some people get tired of April Fool's jokes, but I think one reason they still persist is that many people feel the need for a good laugh about this time of year. You've struggled through the Winter and it's still struggling to hold back Spring. The nights are getting longer but the skies are still too grey. It's time to take things a little less than seriously for a day.

Happy April First!