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NHNE News Brief 71
Friday, July 25, 1997
"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."
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One Good Shoe Deserves Another
"Holy Grail" of Greek Archeology Unearthed
Gates Tops Forbes' List... Again
Mystery Disease Sweeps North America
New Class of Antibiotics Discovered
ADA Not Happy with Bottled Water
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
Clinton & Buddhists
Calls from the Wild
Horse Tails Disappearing in Iowa
Can't Leave Home Without It
Back to the Time of Krushchev
Seeds of Peace Take Root
Threat of Asteroid Strike Downplayed
Clinton & Global Warming
North American Wildlife Corridor
Sharks Under Attack
Nature Filmmakers Scrutinized
Growing Spare Parts for Humans
U.S. AIDS Rate Continues to Fall
New Heart Attack Predictor
ONE GOOD SHOE DESERVES ANOTHER
As Mahatma Gandhi stepped aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped of and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train had already started to move. To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first, with the comment, "The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use."
---Adapted from "The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes"
"HOLY GRAIL" OF GREEK ARCHEOLOGY UNEARTHED
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 1/16/97)
Archeologists in Athens say they've uncovered the ruins of the Lyceum -- the birthplace of Western modern science and philosophy. It was there that Aristotle exalted the virtues of a sound mind and body to his pupils 2,500 years ago. "This is a very important discovery. We have now the main proof about the historical continuity of the Hellenic cultural heritage," said Greek Cultural Minister Venizelos Evangelos. "Aristotle stands at the foundation of modern European science and a great deal of European philosophical thought, and so it's extremely exciting just to know where Aristotle would have been walking, when he was teaching, what kind of rooms he would have been teaching in," said Dr. Jeremy Tanner, of the LONDON INSTITUTE OF ARCHEOLOGY. Considered the holy grail of Greek archeology, the Lyceum was discovered by crews preparing for the construction of a new Museum of Modern Art. (JG)
GATES TOPS FORBES' LIST... AGAIN
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/13/97)
MICROSOFT CORP. Chairman Bill Gates has topped FORBES MAGAZINE's list of the world's top billionaires again for the third straight year, and he's pulling away from the pack. Gates' net worth doubled to $36 billion over the past year. Gates' personal wealth has swelled as investors more than doubled the stock price of MICROSOFT, whose Windows is the world's most popular operating system. That put him nearly $9 billion ahead of the second-place Walton family, the $28 billion heirs to the WAL-MART fortune. FORBES says it limited the list of billionaires this year to the top 200 because the rapid rise of the global economy and stock markets has produced nearly 500 billionaires worldwide. There were 447 on last year's list and just 96 when the magazine started the rankings 10 years ago. Wall Street's bull market also helped American billionaires double their spots in the top 10 ranking, with six slots. Of the American entries, investor Warren Buffett was No. 3 at $23.2 billion and MICROSOFT co-founder Paul Allen stood at No. 6 with $14.1 billion. The other Americans in the top 10 were the Haas family of LEVI STRAUSS, seventh with $12.3 billion, and the Mars candy family, at No. 9 with $12 billion. FORBES provided a separate ranking of dictators and royalty, excluding them from the global billionaires list since they have no direct role in managing businesses. The Sultan of Brunei, worth $38 billion, heads the list. Cuban President Fidel Castro is No. 10 with $1.4 billion. (JG)
MYSTERY DISEASE SWEEPS NORTH AMERICA
(Source: Anita Manning, USA TODAY, 7/23/97)
Health officials are becoming increasingly worried over the growing incidence of a rare foodborne parasite called Cyclospora. In 1996, the tiny, hard-to-identify microbe caused 1,465 illnesses in the U.S. and Canada; so far this year 1,580 people have gotten sick. At first it looked like imported raspberries were the culprit, but now other produce like baby lettuce, and basil are also suspect. "It looks like all fresh produce has the possibility of contamination," says Rob Pritchett of the ALEXANDRIA (Va.) HEALTH DEPARTMENT. "This is a nasty bug," Pritchett says, causing severe diarrhea and fatigue that can last up to several weeks. Symptoms begin about a week after infection and can be treated with antibiotics. The FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION recommends washing produce, but admits only cooking kills the parasite. The only positive element here is that once infected, patients can't acquire the bug again. (JG)
NEW CLASS OF ANTIBIOTICS DISCOVERED
(Source: Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY, 7/18/97)
In the race to stay ahead of mutating drug-resistant bacteria, scientists have crafted the first new class of antibiotics in years. The scientists have found a way to alter the backbone of several varieties of potent drugs, resulting in whole new family of compounds called polyketides, which are produced naturally by soil-dwelling microorganisms. They include the antibiotics erythromycin and tetracycline, and the anti-cancer agent adriamycin. "We're developing methods that combine the power of chemistry with genetic engineering to manipulate these compounds," says researcher Chaitan Khosia of STANFORD UNIVERSITY in Palo Alto, California. Gordon Cragg, Chief of the Natural Products Branch of the NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE which funds the research, adds, "It's an area with great promise, not only in cancer, but in many areas of medicine." USA TODAY calls the discovery "a breakthrough in drug development." (JG)
ADA NOT HAPPY ABOUT BOTTLED WATER
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/14/97)
Americans are drinking more bottled water than ever -- 2.9 billion gallons a year (11 gallons per person), up from 1.2 million gallons 10 years ago. While most people drink bottled water because it is missing the bad stuff (heavy minerals, chemicals, harmful microorganisms, and other pollutants), the AMERICAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION (ADA) is concerned that it is also missing the good stuff. The good stuff in question is fluoride, and the ADA says relying solely on toothpaste, rinses, sodas, and canned goods for flouride treatment "is not an effective or prudent public health practice." The ADA adds that fluoride is especially important for children and recommends tablets or drops as the best, although pricey, alternative to fluoridated water. While the ADA would like to see people all drinking flouridated water, and, as a result, hardening enamel and preventing tooth decay, a growing number of people believe flouride does more harm than good (News Brief 32). For these rabblerousers, bottled water is a convenient way to side-step ADA recommendations, and the water supplies of many major cities that are fluoridated whether you like it or not. (JG)
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
CLINTON & THE BUDDHISTS
(Source: Charles Cameron, MILLENNIUM WATCH INSTITUTE Web site)
A number of Buddhist nomads and religious leaders in China believe Bill Clinton is the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan religious leader, the Gamyat Shepa. Just before he died in 1947, Shepa reportedly asked his followers: "If I am reborn as a Western political leader, will you recognize me?" A Buddhist monk in China said nomads regularly ask him about "Clinton's ethereal status." For more details, see: <http://www.jvim.com/IntelligenceBriefing/Feb1997/prophets.html>. (JG)
CALLS FROM THE WILD
(Source: Daniel Glick, NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)
Search and rescue crews are concerned over what seems to be an increasing trend amongst outdoor enthusiasts to pack cell phones instead of preparing properly for emergencies. Responding to a cell phone call from climbers caught in a fierce hailstorm high in the Grand Teton Mountains, rescuers were dismayed to find a group clad only in shorts and T-shirts, with no extra supplies. When asked to explain, one of the climbers commented, "I looked at a big pile of gear and I looked at the phone... and the phone was a helluva lot lighter." In an age of cordless communications, the help-on-demand syndrome may be leading to a dangerous mindshift in the wilderness. In New Hampshire, a 911 operator received a frantic call from some hikers lost in the dark and pleading for flashlights. The only battery-powered device they had thought of bringing with them was their cell phone. Great Smokies ranger Bob Wightman says he has "real concerns about people beginning to take risks they wouldn't otherwise take, feeling that help is just a phone call away." This belief can provide a sense of false security, since cell phones don't always work in wilderness areas -- and rescue crews aren't always available when you need them. (JG)
HORSE TAILS DISAPPEARING IN IOWA
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/22/97)
At least seven eastern Iowa horses have been stripped of their tails in recent months. "Whoever did it had a conscience," said Val Upmier, who runs a stable where the tails of two horses were cut off two months ago. "They didn't take the whole tail off. They left a fifth of what had been there." Horses need their tails to keep off flies and to cool themselves. It takes about two years for the hair to grow back. One of the owners whose horses were victimized has woven strips of sheet into his horses' tails; caretakers at KIRKWOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE in Cedar Rapids have tied denim on their bobbed horses. The tail hair may have been taken to make jewelry or hair extensions for show horses, said Nellie Wilson, a faculty member in Kirkwood's Horse Science Technology Program. So far, authorities are not blaming aliens. (JG)
CAN'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT
(Source: DAILY MAIL (UK) via NEXUS, June-July/97)
Scientists are testing a watch that can be worn under the skin. The device is implanted in a relatively painless outpatient procedure, and because skin is translucent, the liquid crystal display shows through. The date and time can be changed by a remote controller and the batteries are recharged by placing the wrist next to an inductive recharger. Prototypes are already being tested and the product will be for sale within three years. The same technology could be used to create a range of implanted products, such as tags to track criminals and subdermal monitors to gather medical information. (JG)
BACK TO THE TIME OF KHRUSHCHEV
(Source: Greg Moore, ASSOCIATED PRESS via USA TODAY, 7/18/97)
Alarmed by the growing popularity of rivals, the powerful Russian Orthodox Church has won an overwhelming vote in Parliament to restrict its competitors, which it claims, left uncurbed, would lead to a "spiritual destablization" of the country. (For events leading up to this decision, see News Brief 52.) The bill, which is now sitting on Russian President Yeltsin's desk, states that the Orthodox Church is an "inalienable part" of Russian history, while pledging "respect" for Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other "traditional" religions. All others would be subject to strict limits; for example, the legal status of religious groups that only have been in Russia less than 15 years would be revoked. Pope John Paul has charged that the bill poses a threat to the survival of Russia's Catholic Church.
Critics claim that the real targets are foreign-based Christian groups that are well-funded and capable of drawing Russians from the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church counters that the bill is needed to safeguard against cults such as the Japanese group Aum Shiniri Kyo, which had a sizable presence in Russia.
The U.S. Senate has warned Yeltsin that it will cut off U.S. aid if he signs the bill. (JG)
SEEDS OF PEACE TAKE ROOT
By Gail Rossi
It was much like the opening day at summer camp anywhere. The 170 girls and boys stood in a sea of green T-shirts at the entrance of what once was Camp Powhatan on Pleasant Lake, Maine. Nervous smiles and folded arms hinted at first-day-at-camp jitters. The campers, ages 13 to 15, had gathered for an opening day announcement. About 50 counselors, 20 facilitators and other camp personnel were there too.
But this wasn't just any summer camp. It was the SEEDS OF PEACE INTERNATIONAL SUMMER CAMP, founded in 1993 by former White House correspondent and HEARST NEWSPAPERS foreign editor John Wallach, to help foster lasting peace in the Middle East. And these just weren't any campers. Each had been hand-picked by the government of Israel, or the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, or the governments of neighboring Arabian nations Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar. Among the campers was the daughter of Saeb Erakat, second in command to Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat. Another is a cousin of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. All were selected - from the 2,300 who applied - on the basis of recommendations from their schools, their capacity for shared communication and the contents of their essays on "Why I want to make peace with the enemy."
It was the largest group to gather in Seeds of Peace's five-year history, with the most number of nations represented -- eight, counting the U.S., which has a contingent of children from U.S. inner cities. "This is a historic day," Wallach told the gathering. "I left a 30-year career in journalism to do this. The leaders can sign treaties and treaties, but nobody has done the work with the people," said Wallach.
Wallach spoke to the campers as each of their countries flags were raised on poles lining the entrance to the camp. "This is the first day you are standing all together," he told them. "No where else in the world are your people standing together in peace in this way." Wallach told campers that over the next four weeks, "You are here to show your people that there is a better way." After each nation's flag was raised, and each delegation of children sang their countries national anthem in turn, another flag was raised - the Seeds of Peace flag. "Here, you are one nation," said Wallach. "When we walk through those gates, we are all part of that new nation."
The ceremony ended with a song written in part by Amgad Naguib of Egypt, who was part of the first Seeds of Peace Camp in 1993 and has returned this year as a counselor. As the youths sang along, they raised their arms and waved them over their heads, singing: "I am a seed of peace, rejoice, rejoice! For we have united into one voice. "A voice of peace and hate of war; united hands have built a bridge between two shores. We on the shores have torn down the wall; we stand hand in hand as we watch the bricks fall. "We've learned from the past and fear not what's ahead; I know I'll not walk alone, but with a friend instead."
The youths will need to do plenty of practicing of that song before August 9, when visiting envoys and ambassadors from several Middle Eastern nations and dignitaries from the U.S. join together to officially dedicate the new home of Seeds of Peace in Otisfield, Maine. Among those who have agreed to attend the dedication ceremonies are Undersecretary of State Thomas A. Pickering of the U.S. Department of State, and former ambassador to Israel, Jordan, Russia and the United Nations. The Israel Ambassador to the U.S., Eliahu Elissar and his wife Mrs. Ben Elissar are coming, as is Ambassador of the Hashmite Kingdom of Jordan to the U.S., Marwan Muasher. Envoys will be sent as well from the countries of Egypt, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Qatar and Tunisia. President Bill Clinton is sending his Special Assistant, Jay Footlik, and Maine's U.S. Congressional Representatives John Baldacci and Tom Allen will also be there, along with key camp donors and distinguished guests.
In 1993, when Wallach first started the camp with 52 teenage boys by renting space at the former Camp Powhatan, "there was a lot of hope," he said. Now, in the aftermath of Rabin's assassination, a much more hard-line government is in place in Israel, and tensions are high. Recently, 14 Palestinians were severely injured in Hebron in a clash with Israeli troops. One woman who was in that attack is here at the camp this summer, acting as a delegation leader for the campers. "They will reflect that in their discussions with each other, that much is sure," said Wallach.
The problem, he said, is that each of the kids is only hearing their countries' side of the story. At Seeds of Peace, trained facilitators teach the campers to truly listen to each other, even if it is painful to hear, about the ways in which their country and its people are viewed by others. Wallach said he hopes next year to bring youths from war-torn Northern Ireland and England as well -- and extend the program to run all summer long instead of just four weeks. "These kids bring a lot of hate with them," said Wallach. "We want them to learn the most important principle of all, which is how to listen and not to get upset."
THREAT OF ASTEROID STRIKE DOWNPLAYED
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 7/10/97)
Could an asteroid hit the Earth and wipe out a sizable chunk of civilization? Conventional scientific wisdom says "yes," but a report published recently in SCIENCE says the threat might be smaller than once thought. New analysis indicates so-called Earth-crossing asteroids have a much shorter life span than previously believed -- perhaps as short as 10 million years on average. The asteroids tend to wipe out by crashing into the Sun or Jupiter. Of the 2,000 Earth-crossing asteroids thought to exist, 200 have been identified. Astronomers now estimate that an object 1 km or more in diameter collides with Earth only once every million years. (JG)
CLINTON & GLOBAL WARMING
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)
While up to now the U.S has been cool to support global-warming initiatives, President Clinton is showing sign of warming to the dangers of the global threat. He is gearing up a campaign to build support for tough new regulations to reduce global warming. This fall he will host a conference on finding ways to curb U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases without hurting economic growth, and at a U.N. conference in December, Clinton and other world leaders will negotiate a world treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He also has a trip planned to Block Island in August. Residents of the small island off the coast of Rhode Island are watching their island being washed away by floods that they claim are the result of rising ocean temperatures. (JG)
NORTH AMERICAN WILDLIFE CORRIDOR
(Source: Patricia King, NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)
For four years, scientists tracked a female wolf named Pluie as she made three round trips between Alberta and Yellowstone National Park, a total distance of some 3,000 miles. It was an impressive performance, especially when you consider the obstacles in her way -- highways, housing subdivisions, areas denuded of forest cover. Pluie was shot crossing a British Columbia highway in 1995.
Now a coalition of environmental groups are seeking to establish an animal-friendly corridor for wolves and grizzly bears that would run 1,800 miles from Yellowstone to Canada's Yukon Territory. Dubbed "The Yellowstone-to-Yukon Corridor" (Y2Y), the project would replant forests, build animals-only highway overpasses and curtail cattle grazing, in order to create a "bright green thread" along which animals could safely travel.
Adherents of the plan maintain that wildlife populations need to swap genes with distant populations to avoid extinction. Critics point out that the belief has not been proved, and the logistics to set up such a corridor are unthinkable. Nevertheless, Y2Y is one of several such projects, including a seven-country plan for Central America, which will be discussed when supporters meet in October near Glacier National Park in Montana for their first international conference. (JG)
(Source: Theodore Gideonse, NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)
In this century, much has been made of vanishing species; in the next millennium, we may be even more alarmed about the rapidly expanding ones. "What humans do, is make the environment worse for a number of species and much better for some," notes ecologist James Brown of the UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO.
Consider the following:
-- It is estimated that there are 13,000 brown tree snakes per square mile on the island of Guam. The snakes, which commonly reach lengths of eight feet, have eaten virtually every songbird on the island. The first snake arrived in the cargo of a military plane 50 years ago. It is feared that the nearby Hawaiian Islands will be the next conquest of the reptile.
-- In many parts of the U.S., white tailed deer have been thriving in second-growth forests to the point where they are now considered a suburban pest.
-- Snow goose populations in Canada's Arctic have risen over the last 30 years from 800,000 to almost 3 million. Nesting grounds on the coast of Hudson Bay have been ravaged by the birds upturning the soil and pulling plants out by the roots. "The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem," says Bob Trost of the U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE. "It may take a century to come back to a productive state."
-- Formosa termites are levelling New Orleans. Introduced by military ships returning from East Asia after World War II, the infestation has exploded in recent years. The problem wasn't really apparent until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew felled thousands of termite-weakened trees. Scientists are scrambling to find a way to stop the hardy critters before they spread up both U.S. coasts. (News Brief 19).
What to do? Recreational hunting is unlikely to make much of a dent and killing animals en masse creates too much of a public outcry. The most natural method of controlling outbreaks is biological -- bringing in a predator or enemy. For example, the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA) recently introduced the phlorid fly to help cull the pesky fire ant, which has been stinging Southerners and sucking the sap out of soybeans. The fly implants its larvae in the ant, eventually killing it.
But playing God has its risks -- when Australian authorities released a virus to control their wild rabbit population, it killed off most of the domestic rabbits too. And now some scientists fear the virus could mutate and spread to humans. (JG)
SHARKS UNDER ATTACK
(Source: Jeff D. Copeland, E MAGAZINE, May-June/97)
Over 100 million sharks die each year at the hands of humans, compared to 25 humans who are eaten by sharks. Some 125 countries are now involved in the shark trade. Indonesia, the world's leader in shark landings, doubled its catch in the last decade. Factory fishing operations related to the shark cartilage trade are one of the biggest consumers (News Brief 21).
Last August, the SECOND WORLD FISHERIES CONGRESS meeting in Brisbane, Australia concluded that the demand for shark body parts was beginning to cause long-term problems for some species. In response, the NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE decided last December to reduce quotas for the commercial shark catch along the Atlantic coast by 50 percent. (JG)
NATURE FILMMAKERS SCRUTINIZED
(Source: Lily Whiteman, E MAGAZINE, May-June/97)
A controversy is raging over how popular nature documentaries are made and what they should portray. At the center, is world-famous wildlife filmmaker, Marty Stouffer, who stands accused of staging nature scenes and treating animals cruelly.
Stouffer's troubles began in 1993, when he pleaded guilty to hunting elk and building what the U.S. FOREST SERVICE called a "hunting camp" within the Colorado National Forest. Then, in December 1995, Stouffer, the creator and narrator of PBS's "Wild America" series, was fined $300,000 in civil penalties for bisecting the property of the ASPEN CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES with a trail leading to the camp. The publicity prompted several people associated with "Wild America" to come forward with stories about the filmmaker's behind-the--scenes methods, such as staging the attack of a tethered rabbit by a raccoon, and the fatal fight between a mountain lion and a lynx. While Stouffer denied the charges, he did admit that "sometimes we will take a tame animal out for a walk, and if a chase develops, we will film it," an activity he calls "factual re-creation." In their investigation of the charges, PBS found fault with 15 of the 110 shows in the "Wild America" archive, and dropped the show at the end of 1996.
Also arousing controversy is Stouffer's "Dangerous Encounters," a TV show that solicits home videos of true wildlife encounters. In one clip featuring a mountain lion attacking a cross country skier, he warns of increases in such incidents, but fails to mention that the scene actually depicts the playful roughhousing between a tame mountain lion and its owner. And a few years ago, a cameraman for PBS's series "Nature" was charged with tieing down a fawn in order to film a bear gorging on the bait.
Such recent transgressions recall the dirty tricks of the trade pioneered by Walt Disney and Marlin Perkins, labelled "the worst offenders ever." Ray Disney has gone on record with the claim that his famous uncle once dropped captive lemmings into a river to simulate their "mass suicide." The CANADIAN BROADCASTING SOCIETY exposed Perkins for depositing a tame bear in a Florida swamp, and then staging a heroic rescue of the animal, complete with helicopter, boats and lassos.
And even while today's reputable filmmakers disdain cinematic entrapment, some admit that staging still occurs from time to time. George Page, narrator for the "Nature" series states, "You simply can't film some scenes without setting up." For example, burrowing animals or hiving insects are commonly filmed in man-made sets equipped with a glass panel for the camera. (JG)
GROWING SPARE PARTS FOR HUMANS
(Sources: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/22/97; Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY, 7/23/97)
Two Harvard researchers have developed a technique to grow organs that could lead to making spare parts for people. "As surgeons, we dream about having a shelf full of body parts," said Dr. Anthony Atala, who pioneered the technique with Dr. Dario Fauza. Although other scientists have grown skin and cartilage, Atala and Fauza say they are the first to have grown tissue from such organs as the heart, kidneys and bladder. The two doctors said the greatest promise for the technique could be in correcting common birth defects. Tests on humans are to begin within a year, and the researchers hope to gain approval from the FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION for routine use within five years. The method appears to be a way around the biggest obstacle to organ transplants -- the body's rejection of foreign parts.
The procedure uses two prior achievements -- fetal surgery and tissue engineering. Using the technique, when doctors detected birth defects in a fetus using ultrasound, they remove a pea-size sample of the defective organ through small incisions, with the use of a miniature video camera and long, narrow surgical instrument. Then it's on to the laboratory, where lab technicians separate the different types of cells and place them in dishes of a clear solution rich in proteins and nutrients. With the proper solution, the tissue can grow in an incubator at an astounding rate -- a sample the size of a square centimeter could produce enough tissue within two months to cover two football fields!
Next, the new organ is built by draping the fragile tissue over biodegradable scaffolds. In the case of a sheep's bladder, it was fashioned by layering epithelial cells on the inside of a cup-shaped structure and muscle cells on the outside. Atala said the bladder cells know which way to orient themselves to each other and grow until they fill out the scaffold. Within six weeks of surgery, the new bladder is ready. It was transplanted in the newborn sheep and functions normally.
The researchers hope to use the technique to grow replacement organ tissue for more than newborns. "As a surgeon," Atala said, "there's nothing that I would want more than to have organs and tissue available when you need it -- particularly with today's extremely large shortage of [donor] organs" (JG)
U.S. AIDS DEATH RATE CONTINUES TO FALL
(Sources: REUTERS, 7/14/97; Daniel Pedersen & Eric Larsen, 7/28/97)
In the first nine months of 1996, 30,700 people in the U.S. died from AIDS, down 19 percent from the 37,900 who died in the first nine months of 1995, according to the CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC). That continued a trend started in the first six months of 1996, when 13 percent fewer people with AIDS died than in the same period the previous year -- the first time a significant drop in AIDS statistics was recorded. "All of this is extremely good news," said Helene Gayle, Director of the CDC's national center that deals with AIDS. "We really are entering a new era."
However, Gayle and other experts raised grave concerns because women and minorities were not benefiting to the same degree from the new treatments. While the death rate for men fell 22 percent in the first nine months of 1996, the death rate for women fell only 7 percent. The death rate for whites fell 28 percent compared to 16 percent for Hispanics and only 10 percent for African Americans. Specialists said the epidemic is slowing as high-risk groups like homosexual men and intravenous drug users are engaging in safer practices. More important has been the wider use of so-called protease inhibitors, a drug treatment that, combined with previous treatments such as the well-known AZT, has dramatically increased the condition for people with AIDS and HIV.
However, the drug treatment can cost up to $15,000 a year for one patient, putting a squeeze on limited government funding to support AIDS-related health care. Ironically, hospital stays for terminal AIDS victims average $150,000 -- almost 10 times the annual price of the new cocktails. Some advocates are concerned that as AIDS becomes regarded as a chronic but manageable disease, it will lose its celebrity and urgency as a cause. Meanwhile, the death rate from AIDS continues to rise in poorer countries. (JG)
NEW HEART ATTACK PREDICTOR
(Source: Kathleen Fackelmann, SCIENCE NEWS, 6/14/97)
Half of all heart attacks strike people who have no idea they are at risk. These people don't have high concentrations of chloresterol in their bloodstream -- a well-known indicator of heart disease. Typically, people who have just suffered a heart attack have a chemical marker of inflammation in their blood called C-reactive protein. A team lead by Charles H. Hennekens at HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL in Boston has found that not only does the body's inflammatory response play a crucial role in clogging the heart's blood vessels, but that the test for the indicator of this inflammation may foreshadow heart attacks up to a decade in advance.
C-reactive protein is a naturally-produced inflammatory substance that sends out white blood cells to the site of an injury or infection. The 14-year study found that healthy men with initial readings of C-reactive protein in the top 25 percent of the test group had three times as many heart attacks and twice as many strokes over the next 10 years as those who had lower levels of the protein.
The classic view of atherosclerosis is undergoing an overhaul. Increasing evidence now shows that atherosclerosis is not simply a mechanical plugging of the pipes, but the body's response to an injury to the blood vessel walls. There are a number of possible causes of blood vessel injury, such as free radicals in the blood, smoking, and even certain microbes. The body tries to heal the damage by sending in white blood cells, which if the damage persists, can actually further damage the vessel walls.
One cause for hope is that inflammation-reducing drugs such as aspirin dramatically cut the risk of a first heart attack in middle-aged men. Aspirin is known to discourage the formation of blood clots which cause heart attacks by getting lodged in clogged arteries. The new findings also suggest that aspirin's ability to subdue inflammation is valuable in preventing heart attacks as well. (JG)
(Sources: Cynthia Johnston, IN LIGHT TIMES, 6/97; Jean Callahan, NEW AGE JOURNAL, July-Aug/97)
When a woman stops menstruating at menopause, her production of the hormone progesterone drops to zero, the symptoms of menopause kick in, and the effects of aging start to become more pronounced and proceed at a more rapid rate. The synthetic estrogen hormone called Premarin used in conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy designed to reduce symptoms of menopause and slow down the effects of aging is now suspected of creating a high risk of uterine and breast cancer. This seems to be particularly true for women who suffer from fibroids or cysts. Using natural progesterone creams available in herb and natural food stores to ward off hot flashes and night sweats is becoming a popular natural alternative to Premarin, which is manufactured from the urine from pregnant horses. Natural progesterone is made from the herb wild yam and mimics the hormone produced in the body. Applied topically, this form of herbal therapy keeps progesterone levels at maximum, reducing the risk of uterine cancers as well as the many other side effects of unopposed estrogen therapy. (JG)
(Source: Brad Stone, NEWSWEEK, 7/28/97)
Remember this word: "Qigong" (pronounced chee-GONG) -- you will be hearing it more and more in the future. Qigong is a 3,000 year-old Chinese healing art that combines gentle movements with deep breathing, self massage and meditation. Students, alone or in groups, raise their hands above their heads, and push them down past their stomachs while breathing rhythmically. They repeat the movements for 15 minutes, then sit and meditate for 10 more. Adherents claim the procedure helps to clear the mind, relax the muscles and restore the spirit.
Qigong groups and resources are sprouting up across the country, particularly on the West Coast, and at least six books on the subject will be published this year. And because it is less strenuous and methodical than yoga or tai chi, it's more accessible to the sick and elderly. Claims about the benefits of Qigong include improving posture and circulation, and toning the immune system by countering the effects of stress. "It is the perfect therapy for the diseases of modern civilization," says Kenneth Cohen, author of "The Way of Qigong."
There are thousands of styles of Qigong, but all are based on the ancient Chinese notion that the body has channels called meridians which can be used to "gong" (cultivate) the body's "qi" (vital energy). Devotees believe that powerful Qigong masters, such as Dr. Yan Xin, who is currently on a tour of North America, can project their qi outward and cure other people of such maladies as cancer, deafness, blindness, and spinal cord injuries.
Western scientists have begun to document Qigong's benefits in hard, quantitative terms. Paul Zucker of COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY had 15 hypertensive adults perform Qigong exercises twice a week for eight weeks and found that their average blood pressure had dropped 10 percent. Dr. Wen-hsien Wu of the UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE AND DENTISTRY OF NEW JERSEY found that while practising Qigong did not effect the progress of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a debilitation deterioration of the nervous system in 20 of his patients, it did alleviate their pain.
Western doctors say the procedure works due to the physiological effects of deep breathing and relaxation -- known as the "Relaxation Response." Devotees add that qi consists of nerve impulses which can be directed to the body's problem areas by the technique. To find a class in your area, you can contact the QIGONG ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA toll free at (888) 218-7788. (JG)
David Sunfellow (DS)
James Gregory (JG)
Gail Rossi (GR)
Joya Pope (JP)
Palden Jenkins (PJ)
Kathleen-Blake Frankel (KBF)
Mary Koch (MK)
Robert Perry (RP)
Steve Haag (SH)
Chris Czech (CC)
Sandy Ezrine (SE)
Mark Nijenhuis (MN)
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