Medical-type question: What is ricketts?

kaylasmom tells me that when she was about seven years old, one of her friends died from a condition known as “ricketts” (this would be in about 1960). She does not know what ricketts are, or were, but the little girl was blind, and toward the end of her life, was wheelchair-bound. kaylasmom reports that the girl’s mother was a negligent parent who spent most of her days drinking in local bars, and her impression is that malnutrition was implicated in her friend’s condition.

Also, when I was in high school, I read a book by Alan King where King tells about unrefined sugar (the joke being that the difference between unrefined and refined sugar is dirt), and having read that kids who eat raw sugar cane don’t get cavities. The next joke is that instead of cavities, they get ricketts.

So, what the hell are ricketts? I can’t find anything about a medical condition by that name in wikipedia, or google. Is it called somehting else now? Is it possible that kaylasmom’s friend died from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (caused by the bacteria of the class Rickettsia)?


Try rickets.

Oops, looks like silenus got there first.

From the Mayo Clinic: Rickets.

Basically, a Vitamin D deficiency that results in the bones softening in children.

No mention about blindness or death, the girl probably had other conditions.

It would be very unlikely that a child in the 1950s died of rickets alone. The disease was well known by that time, as was the cure; and vitamin D was routinely added to milk to prevent it. Also, just being in sunlight will cause the body to produce vitamin D. I would guess that it was some other condition that had some similarities to rickets, but wasn’t.

Ah. Thanks all. :smack: I could have sworn I got no hit from wikipedia on that spelling.

runner pat, the blindness was from RLF; pretty much all of kaylasmom’s school friends were blind. Just like her.

In the 50’s rickets, while not common, did occur in big cities to children who lived in tenement apartments. Often they were not taken outside and window glass blocks Vit D absorption. Baby formula didn’t have Vit D added. Mothers were encouraged to feed formula, rather than breast feeding.

Sun screen blocks absorption.

In the Northwest, low Vitamin D levels are common. Normal levels are between 40-100 ng/ml, approximately, lab normals vary. Mine was 18ng/ml before I was started on supplements.

picunurse’s link makes good points - but it doesn’t adequately caution people about what’s termed “safe sun exposure” to generate adequate vitamin D.

The last line of the story does mention checking with a dermatologist about safe levels of exposure, but the bottom line needs to be emphasized - overdoing it damages your skin, makes you prematurely aged-looking and heightens risk of potentially deadly skin cancers.

You can use vitamin D supplements to get adequate levels without compromising the health of your skin (as a footnote, my sister is dead set against sunscreens and refused to use them on her children, apparently in part because of this concern over vitamin D. Our mother, who was a dermatologist, would have been appalled.)

Rickettsia is another possibility here. Rickettsia has nothing to do with vitamin D, it’s a bacterial infection.

O. J. Simpson had rickets. It can cause a kid to become bowlegged. Being slightly bowlegged can be an athletic advantage. Find the kid that is slightly bowlegged and slightly pigeon toed and he’s probably the one that will make the best running back or shortstop.

There is also a hereditary form of rickets–my husband and half his family have it. They had to break/straighten my husband’s legs when he was 12 or so, and his teeth are (were) very, very soft. His mom had to have her knees replaced, and I imagine he will eventually. I suspect he’s in pretty constant pain, but he doesn’t really complain much.

I was diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency (I was at 13 ng/ml) this past winter – my doctor said that people who live north of the line from NYC to San Francisco are at significant risk for the deficiency because from mid-fall to mid-spring there simply isn’t enough sunlight to produce adequate Vitamin D levels endogenously. (I live in Boston.) She told me about a study done with MIT students, having them sit out on a rooftop in January for an hour for 30 days wearing nothing but boxer shorts, and even with all that skin exposed, the sunlight was not sufficient to significantly boost Vitamin D levels in the bloodstream.

The rickets-level of Vitamin D deficiency is 11 ng/ml, so I was not much better than that (and I walk outside and drink fortified milk daily…it just isn’t enough). Next time you (this means you, whoever is reading this!) get a physical, ask your doctor to test your level – you could very well be deficient.

I had to take Vitamin D by prescription (50,000 IU once a week) for 12 weeks to see improvement. Now I take 2,000 IU supplements daily (available OTC)…or I do when I remember to. :smack: