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Your Journey of 60,000 years

Most people that read Gadling are travelers. After talking to a lot of my more mobile friends, I see that they got interested in travel at a young age, often from their family. Turns out, a love for travel can be genetic, and chances are you come from a long, long line of travelers.

The National Geographic Genographic Project headed by Spencer Wells looks at tracing every person's journey genetically. Wells, who has authored several books on the subject of population genetics, is interested in seeing how people have arrived at their current location. Starting from African and the "one mother theory" about 60,000 years ago, this projects looks at the spread of humans over the earth and their genetic differences and similarities acquired on the way. One can even see how close to extinction the human race was.

Fantastic stories of people crossing the land bridges between continents, trekking through deserts in Africa and sailing across oceans -- your ancestors experienced this! You can follow your personal journey, through comparison of DNA, and see where you've been and what types of genes you are carrying. I was quite surprised to see my journey. I am very light skinned and fair haired and was shocked to see that I had a lot of genetic connections to Central Asia. Looking at the pictures of people sampled from that region, I saw similar features to my grandfathers and relatives.

The coolest thing about the Genographic project is that it is "people powered." It needs your participation to work. You can purchase a kit to create your own DNA cheek swab and send in your data. Wells and his team will analyze your chromosomes and compare them with their database. This will give you a personal map and story of your journey.

This project will continue to shed light on migratory patterns and evolution of humans, as a species, for years to come. It will also hopefully show people just how similar we all are and how intertwined our paths have become.

Hanta Virus in American Southwest

The Hanta Virus is a little known problem of those who live and travel in the American Southwest. Unfortunately, Hanta has a reputation for killing people and should be taken seriously. A recent article discusses a case from February, 2008. Knowledge of transmission and prevention are needed to prevent a great "Indiana Jones" style adventure, visiting ghost towns, from making you very sick.

Hanta Virus first got major media attention with an outbreak in New Mexico in the early 1990's. The "Four Corners" area (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado) was the epicenter of infectious disease and epidemiological research. This outbreak allowed researchers to determine that the disease is spread through contact with infected rodent urine and feces. Spread of Hanta between humans, directly, is not common and believed impossible.

Rodents are ubiquitous in the American Southwest and they are the primary vector for disease transmission. People especially vulnerable to this are hikers and backpackers and those who live in more rural areas. Exploration of ghost towns is a popular vacation activity and caution should be taken when doing this. These ghost towns attract the rodents and visitors to these buildings are putting themselves at potential risk through contact with animal urine and feces. However, of more than 100 reported cases, only 2 have come from hikers. The rest are from people cleaning their garages, vacation homes and other areas that include rodents excreta. Bleach solution and rubber gloves are proper protection measures, along with adequate ventilation while cleaning vacation homes or garages.

Hanta Virus symptoms include a flu-like illness with muscle aches and pains, headaches, nausea and vomiting and fatigue being common. There is no cure for Hanta Virus and care is supportive (treating the symptoms only). Worse is the Hanta Pulmonary form that classically appears after the person appears to have recovered from the initial infection. The person;s lungs fill with fluid and progression can be quite rapid, in hours in fact.

There have been 76 cases in New Mexico, since 1993, with 31 deaths.

Mars' Cheese Castle

I was, recently, lucky enough to get an "escape weekend" from Chicago to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On the drive to Milwaukee, along Interstate 94, I found a mecca of cheese and salami. Mars' Cheese Castle is not only an almost mandatory pit-stop for those traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee, but it is a treasure trove of tasty foods and great service. Part restaurant, bar, gourmet deli and gift shop, this is a worth the stop!

I am a big fan of wines, cheeses and various meats/salami. Mars' Cheese Castle satiated my appetites quite nicely. An easy access location allows an easy break from the Interstate and ample parking makes it tough to say "no" to a quick stop for supplies.

Wisconsin is known for great cheese and the Castle doesn't disappoint. Immediately, upon entrance, the deli counter is in view. Packed with great things, both local production and foreign, I was lost for about an hour just browsing. Of course you can get famous and fresh Wisconsin Cheese Curds, in many varieties. I was surprised, by the store's humble appearance, at the selection of imported cheeses including Gruyere, blues and goat cheeses.

Their meat section contains a nice selection of sausages and various luncheon meats. Usinger's products are prominently featured and after a few taste tests, I saw why. There are also some interesting gift ideas, such as sausages shaped like beer bottles. For something to add to your salami and cheese collection, hit their fresh bakery in the back of the store. Fresh cheese, bread, danishes, and rolls are made several times per day.

While you are busy buying foods for your picnic or to enjoy later that night, browse their gift section with some eclectic items that are uniquely "Wisconsin." The Green Bay packers logo is on every conceivable item you could imagine. Cows are another common subject and a better collection of "Brick-a-Brack" or "Chotckies" could not be found, anywhere.

What good is all this food without a little wine or beer too wash it down? While there, we managed to get a few bottles of Von Stiehl Wine, from a surprisingly good selection considering they also had beer shaped salami. Still, it is a beer brewing state and beers, beer steins and gift boxes they have a ton of.

Mars' Cheese Castle is easy to see from the highway and easy to get to. The food and beverage selection is impressive and you can get a dish towel with a smiling Wisconsin cow picture. What else can you ask for on a road trip through Wisconsin? Next time you are in southern Wisconsin, stop by and make sure you are hungry!

[See map]

In a Jam with the Jellies

As the weather begins to get a little less wintery we are already beginning to discuss our summer trips. A beach trip is always a favorite. Laying on the shore with a bit of swimming and relaxation are just what's needed after a long, cold winter. But there are a few hazards that can ruin a good trip to a dive spot or beach -- best to start thinking about them now, so if there is a problem, you'll be ready to deal with it.

One of my most favorite quotes on the subject of bites and stings actually comes from WC Fields. "Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake."

Jelly Fish are beautiful creatures to watch swim and some of the most interesting marine life. They can also cause a lot of pain and problems if you get stung. Jellyfish sting with their tentacles that contain thousands of nematocysts. Thus, a single creature can produce many, many stings.

The first priority, for a jellyfish sting victim, is to make sure they are still breathing properly and not having a severe allergic reaction. Burning at the site, numbness, nausea and swelling are all common reactions. A topical decontaminant is what is next. Get those stingers to stop causing problems! The nematocysts can generally be 'de-activated" with a solution of vinegar, rubbing alcohol or baking soda, poured over the wound. This will also help relieve the pain. Papain, found in meat tenderizer may also be helpful. Removal of the stingers can be aided by shaving the area, with a sharp razor and shaving cream. A local antibiotic/antiseptic cream can now be applied, with or without a low dose steroid cream. For those who just have to adventure in known jellyfish areas, a StingerSuit might be a good consideration. Oh, save the pee for the bathroom as it has not been proven to be of benefit and it is kind of gross.

There are a few famous jellies to know about. First is Chironex Fleckerii (Box Jellyfish), from Australia. This sting can be fatal to humans and extreme caution should be taken in waters where they live. The other bad-guy is Irukandji (Carukia Barnesi), also from Australia. This jelly is only about the size of a large coin and very deadly. Swimmers can often miss seeing them, until it is too close by to avoid.

Make sure to pay attention to life-guards and warning signs for the beaches you are visiting. The best advice is to avoid areas with abundance of jellyfish and head to another beach that is safer.

Should you postpone your travel plans when ill?

The recent incident involving the woman who died mid-air has drawn attention to travelers who choose to fly when seriously ill. CNN ran an article offering advice for those who fly while sick, and to summarize, they advise against it. I consider myself a student of remote medicine and medical care with limited resources, and I am finding it difficult to think of a more remote, under-equipped location than a commercial airliner at 30,000 feet.

The CNN article discussed a company called MedAire and their advice to consider postponing flight plans when ill. The basic theory is that if someone is sick on the ground, their condition will likely be exacerbated by the cabin pressure, making them worse. MedAire reports that they receive approximately 50 in-flight calls per day from pilots with sick passengers and documented 97 on-board deaths for 2007.

Federal law requires that all US commercial airliners carry basic medical supplies including an AED (automatic external defibrillator), oxygen and a basic medical kit. The purpose of the AED is to detect a lethal cardiac arrhythmia and deliver a lifesaving shock, that hopefully converts the heart to a safe rhythm. The contents of the medical kit vary, but generally include aspirin, nitroglycerin, alcohol swabs, anti-histamines, broncho-dilators, epinephrine, dextrose, a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, shears and IV tubing with saline fluid. The article also points out that although flight attendants have training in handling in-flight emergencies, they are not medically trained.

Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from this article is that a traveler is ultimately responsible for their own safety and well-being at all times. There is a tendency to take for granted the fact that most people reading this live in areas where an ambulance service and trained medical care are merely a phone call away. This is not always the case when traveling -- especially at 30,000 feet above the ground.

Some basic pre-planning for a flight should include a carry-on bag with ample supply of medications and a list of medical conditions. Loose, comfortable clothing and proper hydration cannot be stressed enough.

A very good and informative article from the Aerospace Medical Association offers some tips for healthy airline travel.

Ebola Outbreak over in Uganda

The Ugandan Ministry of Health declared their outbreak of Ebola Virus officially over on Februrary 20th. If anybody have seen the movie Outbreak, they will remember the first few scenes involving the Ebola Virus. This is one of those dark, scary viruses that has crawled out of the forests and has been wreaking havoc since 1976.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is spread through direct contact with body fluids of someone who is already infected with the virus. Another likely way to get this is from handling dead animals found in Central African forests. Famous for its case fatality rate of an amazing 55-90%, this is something you want to avoid. Symptoms include high fevers, rash, vomiting and diarrhea. Then it gets bad: multi-organ system failure, uncontrolled bleeding from the eyes, gums and rectum are common in the severe forms. There is no known cure.

This particular outbreak was a source of much attention, due to neighboring countries closing their borders in an attempt to contain the spread. Of interest to travelers to the area, the general traveler is not at risk for Ebola and the WHO did not issue any travel precautions to the area.

Cyclone Ivan and Madagascar

The Island of Madagascar, east of Africa, has been hit pretty hard by Cyclone Ivan. Madagascar has been a popular traveler's destination due to its natural beauty and unique wildlife. The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is home to 5% of the world's plant and animal species.

Cyclone Ivan made landfall on the island Februrary 18th, and 28 deaths have already been confirmed. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers are just now beginning to gain access to the parts of the island most heavily damaged. The capital city of Antanarivo has approximately 18,000 people displaced and country wide figures estimate 300,000 effected by the storm.

A country that depends largely on tourism and agriculture, Madagascar has also been suffering with large international debt. A population of 7.5 million in 1975 (the last year they had a census), lives primarily in the rural areas out side of the capital city.

A wonderful website that discusses the variety of wildlife and vegetation on Madagascar can be found at Notable adventures on the island include surfing, wildlife tours involving the local carnivores called Fossa and Eco-travel.

Measles on a Plane

Passengers on a flight from San Diego to Hawaii were expecting to have a safe flight followed by, hopefully, some relaxing time in Hawaii. Instead, they were exposed to measles.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and is characterized by the famous rash that first develops on the face and head, spreading downward to the torso and arms.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that an 11 month old child from San Diego is under isolation at a military base until the risk of infection subsides, in 3-4 more days.

The origin of the infection believed to be from a visit to a pediatric clinic in La Jolla. San Diego County has reported 5 cases of measles, in 2008.

Travelers on the plane, as well as those at the gate, are at risk for contracting measles if not properly immunized. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is commonly given to children over the age of 12 months. The 11 month old child was not able to receive the vaccine.

Any person who is believed to have been in contact with measles should visit their doctor.

Beware of fake malaria drugs in Asia

A really interesting article over at Medical News Today looks at the prevalence of fake anti-malarial medications being sold, especially in China. The article is the result of a communal project involving physicians, public health workers, and Interpol participating in "Operation Jupiter" to uncover the unfortunately common practice of fake medication being sold to travelers. The original article, published in the Public Library of Science can be read here.

The anti-malarial drugs often contained no medications of benefit to malaria prevention. Worse than that were the medications that actually contained harmful substances such as banned medicines and ingredients from the street drug Ecstasy. But wait, it gets even worse! Some of the medicines sold had trace amounts of the known anti-malarial drug called Artesunate. There was just enough to pass the drug screening test, but not enough to provide any decent protection. This means that a resistance to Artesunate can build, rendering a very potent anti-malarial drug worthless.

One suspect, from the Yunnan province, is charged with selling 240,000 packs of fake Artesunate. This is an amount large enough to give false hope of protection from malaria to almost a quarter of a million people. However, only ten percent of this was able to be seized and removed from the market.

This article underscores the importance of knowing where your medication comes from. There are many reputable pharmacies worldwide, but there are also some shadier, backdoor places that have these unlicensed and harmful products. The best advice would be to get your medications from your home country or from a known and confirmed reputable place.

Make sure you get the medications you are paying for and are actually being protected from malaria.

Prevent the dangerous "economy class syndrome"

A DVT (deep vain thrombus) is a condition that can be life threatening in travelers. You can get this from having poor blood circulation in the lower body, which leads to the blood clotting in the veins of the legs. The danger occurs if this clot finds its way to the lungs, suffocating the victim. This condition also goes by a few other names like VTE (venous thrombo-emobolism), PE (pulmonary emolism) or "economy class" syndrome" due to the cramped leg space on some airline carriers.

The veins of the legs carry blood, under low pressure, back to the heart and lungs, to be recharged with fresh oxygen. When a clot develops in these veins, it can be very large due to the increased diameter of the veins in the legs. Normal, healthy blood is made to clot and prevent somebody from bleeding to death in the event of a trauma. Blood also clots if it is not moving at its standard rate as well. A person sitting in a plane or car, for greater than 3-4 hours, is at risk for having decreased blood flow in the legs which can cause this dangerous clotting.

A sharp pain in the chest, increased heart rate and shortness of breath are all common symptoms. The DVT can occur several days after a trip and is, usually, first noticed as swelling of one leg more than another.

Travelers need to know how to maintain good blood flow in the legs, thus minimizing the risks of this deadly condition. For longer flights, trains, and drives, they key is mobility! Get up and out of your seat every hour to walk around. Visit the bathroom, walk the isle for a few paces or do some simple stretches in your chair. Some of my favorite stretches include flexing my calf muscles by raising my heels off the ground and placing my weight on the balls of my feet. Deep knee bends also work very well for stretching the muscles of the legs and increasing blood flow to the area.

Treatment for these conditions are required immediately. Medicines such as heparin or enoxaparin are commonly used. Awareness of this condition and taking steps to ensure good blood flow to the legs, during travel are the keys to prevention.

Resources: CDC Traveler's Health Yellow Book: DVT

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