Watching the World
Transfusions Kill 1,000 Annually
● A form of hepatitis known as non-A non-B hepatitis, says The New York Times, afflicts “120,000 Americans each year, about 90,000 of whom contract the disease through blood transfusions.” “More than 1,000 of the victims die each year,” adds the report. Recently U.S. scientists succeeded in identifying a virus that causes this form of the disease. Scientists will now be able to study the virus closely. They hope to develop a method of screening contaminated blood and possibly even develop a hepatitis vaccine. But, as yet, the disease is untreatable. Dr. Robert J. Gerety of the Food and Drug Administration told The Times that “about 10 percent of all individuals who received five or more units of transfused blood become infected with the non-A non-B virus.”
● “One billion of the world’s population is illiterate—and the number is growing steadily,” says The Star of Johannesburg, South Africa, based on reports from GFID (the German Foundation for International Development). “In many countries—particularly in Africa—more than 90 percent of the people cannot read or write.” According to German agronomist Eva-Maria Bruchhaus, an international literacy campaign backed by UNESCO is floundering in developing countries. Why? Because of low school enrollment, a high dropout rate—less than a third who enroll finish school—and a lack of opportunity for schoolchildren to apply what they learn.
● As much as 90 percent of blood plasma use in the United States is unwarranted, reported a panel of experts assembled by the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. “Of the 3.5 million patients who receive transfusions each year, up to 700,000 receive plasma—perhaps 630,000 more than should be getting it,” says The New York Times in reporting the opinion of Dr. James L. Tullis, who headed the panel. The panelists estimated that each year up to 10,000 cases of viral hepatitis are caused by plasma alone.
● China’s communist party recently announced what The Wall Street Journal calls “a landmark economic plan” that will put “200 million city dwellers further down the capitalist road than almost anyone would have believed possible.” The plan is to abandon “most Soviet-style central planning.” “Over the next several years,” says the report, “more than a million state enterprises and factories are to be cut loose from government planning and protection and will rise or fall on their own economic merit and talent.” However, key industries, such as steelmaking, will remain under government control. Presently, government-granted subsidies keep the price of food, housing, clothing, transportation, and education artificially low. But experts outside of China speculate that prices will rise and that there will be years of confusion in implementing this new plan. Nevertheless, Robert Hormats, former assistant secretary of state for economic affairs, says, “If China continues in this direction, we will really be seeing one of the remarkable economic events of the 20th century.”
● The amount of oil lost at sea in 1983 by spillage, fire, or container sinking, rose dramatically—930 percent over 1982. The Oil Spill Intelligence Report pinpoints the loss at 241.8 million gallons. The largest single loss—80 million gallons—occurred in the Persian Gulf, where attacks in the Iraqi-Iranian conflict caused oil-well blowouts and prevented repairs. However, most of the spillage came from oil tankers. What makes the lost oil so worrisome, says Richard Golob, editor of The Report, is the evidence that “we don’t have the technology in place to deal effectively with the spillage.” Very little oil can be recovered.
Animal Antibiotics—A New Hazard
● After a painstaking study, CDC (Centers for Disease Control) scientist Scott Holmberg and colleagues have established a direct link between the illnesses of 18 people in four Midwestern states and the use of antibiotics in animal feed. This study, along with other studies in recent years, has bolstered the case for imposing a ban on animal antibiotics, say many scientists. Explaining the dangers, the magazine Science says, “Antibiotics in animal feed kill off vulnerable bacteria, leaving the more competitive, and often more virulent, microbes to flourish.” When the microbes are passed on to humans in contaminated food, “illness can be prolonged because conventional antibiotic therapy is ineffective against these drug-resistant organisms.” While many opponents of a ban on animal-feed antibiotics concede the strength of these studies, they argue that such a ban would raise meat prices.
Sun Rises, Weeds Fall
● Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a herbicide that is activated by light, reports Science News. The herbicide’s main ingredient is a simple amino acid, commonly known as ALA, which is found in all plant and animal cells. Ordinarily, ALA is used by plants to make light-sensitive chemicals called tetrapyrroles, which, in turn, form chlorophyll in the presence of light. But when ALA and a chemical activator are sprayed on plants at night, excess tetrapyrroles are formed that react all at once when the sun rises. Most plants die within hours. “The plant literally shrinks under your eyes,” says Dr. Constantin A. Rebeiz, one of the herbicide’s developers. Wheat, oats, corn, and barley are not significantly affected. But ALA is death-dealing to many common types of weeds.
● The oldest music score ever found in China, an inscribed wooden fragment with musical notations written for a five-stringed instrument, is about 1,800 years old, writes the Chinese weekly news magazine Beijing Review. It was found in 1920 but was neglected and shelved for over 60 years until Lanzhou University historian Niu Longfei recently examined and translated the score. He describes the melody as elegant and beautiful.
● At a pollution forum at the annual Arctic Science Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, scientists expressed dismay at the amount of air pollution now found in The Arctic. The Soviet Union, which occupies 75 percent of the land north of the Arctic Circle, was said to be the largest contributor of pollution, followed by Europe and the United Kingdom. It was noted that the effects of pollutants are magnified in the harsh Arctic environment. Researcher William Zollar, with 20 years of Arctic experience, said, “Everything holds on by a very narrow thread in the Far North.” An international conference on Arctic pollution is planned for this year, reports The New York Times.
● Each year, American computer-software firms are losing between $1 billion and $3 billion because of computer pirates copying their programs, says The German Tribune. Computer piracy is rampant in the United States, France, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. “The problem is getting worse,” adds a spokesman for the industry. So far, the pirates have found ways to get around devices meant to stop programs from being copied. What can be done? In a number of countries, laws have been enacted to make such piracy illegal. But one spokesman, admitting defeat, suggests that computer companies simply “keep on developing new software” and outdate the pirated copies.
● Too many chemicals for pest control are being used in agriculture and forestry, said Professor Berndt Heydemann at the International Entomological Congress at Hamburg, Germany. As reported in The German Tribune, he said it “would do better to deploy ladybirds and other insects to beat the bugs biologically” and that pest damage could be “reduced substantially, by crop rotation and growing a wider range of grain.” High-yield crops and single-crop farms bereft of wild plants cut down the effectiveness of natural pest controls. The report concludes: “If European farmers were to produce only as much food as their fellow-countrymen needed, chemical pest control could be discontinued within 10 to 20 years.”
● “Until recently penicillin was used to treat gonorrhea. It was said to cure the disease in a few hours and cure syphilis in a few days.” So says the Athens News of Athens, Greece. But now, says the report, a new strain of gonorrhea, labeled “super-gonorrhea,” “is able to produce a substance that inactivates penicillin.” To stop the disease, more expensive, alternative antibiotics, such as kanamycin and spectinomycin, must be used. Yet they do not cure syphilis—the most dangerous sexually transmitted disease. While doctors in Asia point to the effectiveness of alternative antibiotics in treating “super-gonorrhea,” syphilis there is becoming more widespread.
● At Mitaka Railway Station near Tokyo, a string of twirling banners displaying large “eyeball” designs has frightened the pigeons away—ending the daily complaints that officials used to get from victims of pigeon droppings. “The station suspended 40 of the banners in six places where the birds normally gathered,” reports the Mainichi Daily News of Tokyo, Japan. “Bright yellow, with three black concentric rings and two half moons in the center, made to resemble eyeballs, they spin around in the breeze.” These banners may offer hope for thousands of Japanese buildings and temples plagued with pigeon droppings, says the report.
● A study of 103 cases of food suffocation in children nine years old and under shows hot dogs to be the leading cause of choking death when eating, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association. Other foods, such as carrots, cookies, candy, and nuts are also causes, but hot dogs are blamed for 17 percent of all such choking deaths. “If you were trying to design something that would be perfect to block a child’s airway, it would be a bite-size piece of hot dog,” said Susan P. Baker of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, according to New York’s Daily News. “A child under the age of 4 should not be given a whole hot dog to eat,” she said.