Hena Tayeb’s blog post on Monday presented interesting synopses of ten books, one of which introduced me to people I’d never heard of. The central fictional character of ‘The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek’, has blue skin and the story relates her life as a librarian, taking books by mule to isolated communities. It is a novel, which Hena says she found quite clichéd but which led her to investigate the phenomenon of the Blue People. I followed her example.
The ‘Blue Fugates’ also known as the ‘Blue People of Kentucky’ were founded in 1820. A Frenchman named Martin Fugate moved to Kentucky and met and married a woman called Elizabeth Smith. They both carried a very rare recessive gene for methaemoglobinaemia, though it is said that Martin Fugate had a blue tinge to his skin.
This gene results in reduced ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. People affected exhibit blue skin and their blood appears brown.
The Fugate family had seven children, of whom four had blue skin. Living in a rural community with little contact with other communities and no good transport links, the gene pool was limited. Thus, intermarriage ensured that many descendants of the Fugates were born with congenital methaemoglobinaemia.
Although the condition can cause heart abnormalities and seizures if the rate of methaemoglobin is high, that is, more than 20%, most of those affected with a level between 10% and 20%, displayed the characteristic blue skin without other effects. Most of the Fugates lived healthily, marrying and having children with varying degrees of blue colouration or none.
As transport links developed and contact with unrelated communities increased, the gene pool was widened and the condition was seen less frequently. The condition has been seen in the Yakutsk people in Siberia, the Navajo and the Athabaskan Alaskans.
If the condition causes medical problems it can be treated.
Blue skin can be acquired through the injudicious ingestion of unregulated alternative medicines. In the case of Paul Karason, known as ‘the Blue Man’ or ‘Papa Smurf’, his purple-blue skin was caused by him taking colloidal silver to combat dermatitis, sinus problems and acid reflux.