The sole of the matter

Olivia and I leave for Guatemala tomorrow, and like many adoptive families who visit, we are bringing items we know can be used by people who live there. Vitamins, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and the most important item of all: shoes. 

A newly described, preventable disease afflicts some people in the highlands of Guatemala. It is called podoconiosis. The disease is caused by dust in volcanic soil being ground into the skin, causing an immune reaction that results in swelling of the feet. For many years, podoconiosis was mistaken for sleeping sickness (which causes similar swelling of the legs in tropical regions). Recently, however, a group of German dermatologists figured out the connection between walking barefoot or in open sandals in volcanic soil for decades with the characteristic swelling of the feet. (Please note:  I’ve italicized for decades to emphasize that the disease develops over many years, not during a hike up the side of a volcano.)

In the developing world, as in the developed world, prevention is the key. At home, we make sure our children brush their teeth, wear their bike helmets, buckle their seatbelts, eat right and exercise, and use sunscreen. When we travel to Guatemala, we bring shoes.


Sleeping sickness:


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7 Responses to “The sole of the matter”

  1. Paula Chapman says:

    Very interesting. I had heard of sleeping sickness but not podoconiosis. I look forward to seeing photos from your trip. (By the way, love the pink and red Converse shoes!)

  2. Jessica says:

    Paula, according to my husband, podoconiosis is only recently described and not yet very well-known. So don’t feel bad! Trip photos to come. (We love Converse, too: they go with everything, everywhere.)

  3. Jenny says:

    I just read your blog and thoroughly enjoyed it! You certainly have a way with words! And the dermatology learning was an added bonus… I bet this would even stump the residents! Have a wonderful trip!

  4. Jessica says:

    Jenny, how great to hear from you. And thank you for the fabulous CD from our trip. An unexpected and delightful surprise.

    Tim learned about the podoconiosis finding while researching the latest edition of Andrews’. Not yet well-known, so he wouldn’t hold it against the residents! Hope we can get together when we return. My book launch is November 13, 7 pm, at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If not then, another time. My best to your family!

  5. Jenny says:

    Yes, I put it on my calendar last night when reading your blog. I am excited for you and your family and will definitely be there for the event!

  6. Jenny says:

    P.S. As long as you promise to sign a copy!! ; – )

  7. Jessica says:

    I would be honored. :-)

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