Watching the World
AIDS Detection Uncertain
Researchers have discovered that a person carrying the AIDS virus may not show it under standard testing methods designed to detect antibodies developed by the body in response to the virus. “The finding is troubling because it also suggests that the virus is actually being carried by some people at high risk of AIDS infection who were declared free of the virus in commonly used tests, and that they could transmit it to others,” notes The New York Times. “The finding also means that some contaminated blood might slip through screening procedures designed to protect the supply of transfusion blood.” The scientists found that the AIDS virus can hide in macrophages—scavenger cells of the body’s immune system—or even lie dormant in T-4 cells, which normally trigger antibody production. This may explain why some people infected with the AIDS virus did not form antibodies until after a year or more had passed. Researchers immediately began working to devise new testing methods.
Meanwhile, according to the AP (Associated Press) report, an assistant professor at Cornell University of Medicine claims that “the nation’s blood supply is far more contaminated than the public has been led to believe,” asserting that “one in 10 blood transfusions will result in some sort of infection, including hepatitis and AIDS.” The AP report also noted that Dr. Joseph Feldschuh told a medical conference that “the public has been misled, particularly on the chance of acquiring AIDS through a transfusion.” In fact, he said, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, was estimating that one in 40,000 units of blood may contain undetected AIDS virus, “patently false estimates have been fed to the public, putting the risk of acquiring AIDS through transfusion at one in 250,000 to one in 1 million.” Feldschuh cited studies from which he concludes that about one in 3,600 units of blood may have the AIDS virus though unbetrayed by antibodies.
Snakes Instead of Cats
People living in certain mountainous regions on the island of Crete keep snakes in their home. Why? For the same reason some people have cats—to chase away mice. “Most of the species of snakes render invaluable services to rural people,” says Ethnos, a newspaper of Athens, Greece. “They protect crops from the rodents, they feed on harmful animals, and they exterminate insects.” The article calls this practice “a curious phenomenon, indeed.”
Blood transfusions should “be kept to a minimum,” a U.S. National Institutes of Health panel has advised. And considering improved surgical procedures, the panel recommended that “traditional uses of blood be re-evaluated.” The government warning was the first to be issued based on the risk of getting AIDS through blood transfusion. Transfusions carry “documented risks of infection and immune changes,” said chairman Tibor Greenwalt. Though the panel considered the chances of contracting AIDS from a transfusion to be small, the report warned that the “level of risk is unlikely to be appreciably decreased in the foreseeable future even if additional screening tests are added.”
“Government scientists believe a serious accident caused by faulty microchips is ‘inevitable’ in the next four years,” reports The Times of London. Why? Recent investigations have revealed a high percentage of faulty microchips used in military equipment. Computer experts fear that similar weaknesses will occur in the microprocessors used in civilian applications—such as power stations, aircraft, and some cars. In an effort to avert disaster, British scientists claim to have developed “the first microprocessor capable of being proved mathematically to be free of design faults,” says The Times.
India’s Population Climbing
“India’s population has reached more than 800 million,” reports The New York Times, “and top Government officials say they are alarmed by the failure to bring a sharp drop in the nation’s birth rate.” With a growth of over 120 million people in less than eight years, India may eventually overtake China, at 1.1 billion people, as the most populous nation of the world. The increase has negated the government’s efforts to raise the standard of living and remove poverty. Saroj Kharpade, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, warned that the country was heading toward a situation in which “there would be no houses, no water, no schools, no health facilities in adequate measure to take care of the increasing numbers.”
Adrift for Five Months
In June a new record of endurance at sea appears to have been set by five Costa Rican fishermen who were adrift for five months on the Pacific Ocean. Setting sail from Costa Rica for an eight-day fishing trip, they were hit by a two-week-long storm that knocked out their radio and blew their 30-foot [9 m] boat far out to sea, where their fuel supply was exhausted. They survived by collecting rainwater and eating fish and turtles. A Japanese tuna boat rescued them about 700 miles [1,130 km] southeast of Honolulu, some 3,600 miles [5,800 km] from where they started. It was the only ship they saw in all that time. Aside from facial sunburn and some swelling of the limbs, they were found to be in surprisingly good health.
Another World War II Fatality
World War II has claimed another fatality. A mine exploded in the province of Mersa Matrûh, some 300 miles [480 km] northwest of Cairo, killing one person and wounding two others. Hundreds of thousands of mines from the war are said to lie buried in Egypt’s western desert regions, where battles between Allied and Axis forces were fought in 1942 and 1943.
A new way to get rid of termites and locusts has scientific circles intrigued. The insecticide used is produced by a small black ant—of the genus Monomorium—and a tiny dose of it suffices. “A drop of venom [on the prey] and death follows in a few seconds,” reports the French daily Le Monde. Unlike insects sprayed with man-made insecticides, those treated with ant venom do not appear to develop an effective immunity. The venom is already synthesized, and a laboratory is planning on producing a man-made version of this ant-produced insecticide.
Pope’s 37th Trip
According to a New York Times account, the unusual appears to have been the norm on the 37th overseas trip of Pope John Paul II. Paraguay heard possibly the shortest applause for a papal speech. The President, “Gen. Alfredo Stroessner . . . clapped his hands four or five times,” and the government officials and foreign diplomats present at the presidential palace followed suit. Uruguay had perhaps “the briefest scheduled encounter” with the pope. Schoolgirl María Paula Lolena managed only her greeting, “In the name of all Uruguay, we give you these flowers.” Then she fainted—still holding the flowers. Bolivia saw likely ‘the highest Mass celebrated by a pope.’ The altar at El Alto, near La Paz, was at 13,450 feet [4,100 m] above sea level. It was attended by a group of Indians who mix devotion to “Mother Earth” and the sun with their Catholic beliefs. “I am not sure what the Pope means to them,” said their priest, José Iriarte.
“The American public believes that for every ill, there’s a pill—that everything can be treated,” says Dr. Harvey Klein, a Cornell University Medical College professor. Out of only 725 approved active ingredients, some 300,000 over-the-counter medications and vitamins have been formulated. Spurred on by advertising, Americans spent $12 billion procuring them last year in an effort to improve their health—a growth of 43 percent since 1982. There are, however, risks. “There is no totally safe medication known to man,” says Dr. James S. Todd of the American Medical Association, “and the lay person is in no position to judge.” Care must especially be exercised when taking multiple drugs, as combinations can be dangerous. It is recommended that product information and warnings be carefully read and expert advice sought in case of doubt.