Watching the World
Infectious Disease Comeback
“The danger posed by infectious diseases has not gone away. It is worsening,” says Robert Shope of Yale University regarding a report released by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. “If we don’t gear up again to bring matters under control, we could face new crises similar to the HIV pandemic or the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.” Four diseases have already “appeared seemingly out of nowhere, causing much misery and death,” adds Joshua Lederberg, fellow chairman with Shope on the committee that prepared the report. The diseases are drug-resistant TB, AIDS, Lyme disease, and a deadly new form of streptococcal infection. Although many drugs and antibiotics have been developed over the past three decades, microbes have developed resistance to them in various ways. Bacteria, for example, can exchange genetic material, including the genes for antibiotic resistance. Consequently, hospitals, day-care centers, and shelters for the homeless have become breeding centers for drug-resistant infectious diseases. And increased international travel has spread the “superbugs” around the globe. Says Barry Bloom of New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine: “In terms of infectious disease, there’s no place from which we are remote and no person from whom we are disconnected.”
Canada’s Violent Crime
“Think Canada is a peaceful place? Think again,” says The Toronto Star. “Canada is ranked with the second-highest violent crime rate in the western world,” after the United States. An international study showed Canada’s crime rate to be from two to three times higher than that of Western Europe, which, in turn, was three times higher than Japan’s. Recent decades have seen crime in Canada double and even triple, with the cities of Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa having the highest crime rates. London, Ontario, came next, followed by Toronto and Montreal. According to University of Ottawa criminologist Irvin Waller, violent crime may get worse unless more is done to get at the roots of the problem, such as poverty, housing, neglect, unemployment, and substance abuse.
Dairy farmers in Japan have been looking for a more efficient and less time-consuming way to round up cows scattered over hills, where visibility is limited. So they conducted an experiment to see if the cows could be herded by music. For 13 days they played the Japanese tune Haru no Ogawa (Brook in Springtime) to 16 cows for three minutes at a time, two to four times a day. Immediately afterward, they gave them their favorite food. After a winter break during which the cows gave birth, ten of the “trained” cows were put out to pasture along with their nine calves. The same tune was played again. “In two minutes,” reports Asahi Evening News, “the whole herd had arrived, brought together by music they had not heard for about four months.”
Well-Kept Medical Secret
One of the best-kept secrets of the Danish medical fraternity was revealed by Professor Margareta Mikkelsen, a consultant. She disclosed that medical personnel examining patients for inherited illness regularly discover that the man designated as the father of a child cannot be the biological father because of chromosome incompatibility. According to the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, between 5 and 8 percent of fathers in Denmark are not the biological fathers of their children. This means that at least 3,000 of the 60,000 births a year are attributable to infidelity. The men are not told of the discovery, however, lest the family be disrupted.
“Tragedy Within the Tragedy”
A recent seminar organized in Rome by the World Health Organization and the International Center of Research and Relief revealed a “long list of monstrosities, waste, and incredible errors of which the powerful international aid machine is regularly guilty,” says Economia, a supplement to the newspaper Corriere della Sera. The list includes diet candies sent to famine-stricken Ethiopia; summer tents sent following an earthquake to Anatolia, Turkey, where the thermometer read 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12° C.); expired medicines; and vaccines that need refrigeration sent to places lacking electricity. Relief supplies often remain undistributed in warehouses or do not reach those needing them. Why do these gross errors continue? Says Economia: “International aid has to produce visible, and if possible, spectacular results.” It also said: “Public opinion demands it, so it doesn’t matter if, nearly always, it’s just throwing away money.” Experts call it “a tragedy within the tragedy.”
Increasing pollution of water sources is responsible for the proliferation of toxic algae that threaten fish worldwide, say scientists. According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, dinoflagellates, a type of algae, produce a toxin that kills fish. They then attach themselves to bits of fish flesh by means of a stalk, through which they secrete digestive juices to liquefy the flesh before sucking it in. In these major fish kills, researchers have counted up to 175,000 dinoflagellates in a teaspoon [35,000 per ml] of water. A concentration of only 1,500 dinoflagellates per teaspoon [300 per ml] is sufficient to kill fish in aquariums. The dinoflagellates are often released in new areas through the dumping of ballast water from ships.
Clergy Divorce Rate Rises
“One in every three marriages in Germany ends in divorce,” notes The German Tribune. And correspondingly, “more and more Protestant ministers’ marriages are failing.” Hans-Martin Heusel, deputy to the president of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, admits that “the divorce rate among both male and female ministers is now as high as in the population as a whole.” While the church teaches that the marriage union should be insoluble, states the Tribune, “the reality, even among churchmen themselves, is something quite different. Personal, Christian witness and the preaching of the Church diverge widely in divorce involving pastors.” With few exceptions, “a divorced pastor can remain in the cloth either in his old position or elsewhere.”
An increasing number of retiring Japanese office workers are suffering from symptoms ranging from stomachache to paralysis. As retirement approaches, these workaholics lose influence at work and are treated as nuisances at home by the families they have neglected. “Although they get depressed,” reports the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, “they try to hide it by acting cheerfully. Soon symptoms such as stomachache set in.” Checkups reveal nothing wrong physically. Dr. Tooru Sekiya, who named these symptoms “masked depression before retirement,” says of the typical patient: “He pampers himself by thinking the only way to be accepted would be to get sick, and this naturally leads to a variety of symptoms.” What can be done? “Find values in something other than work, such as a hobby,” counsels Dr. Takashi Sumioka, who treats many such patients in Tokyo, and “make it a habit to cherish your family all the time.”
Mexico and the Catholic Church
On September 21, 1992, after a break of more than 130 years, Mexico and the Vatican restored full diplomatic relations. This followed the proposal by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to change the Constitution and to give back to religious groups the rights that were taken away after the revolution of 1910. “Most of those rights were initially revoked between 1856 and 1861 when rebellious liberals, eager to curb the vast power of the Catholic Church, severed the country’s ties to the Holy See,” notes The New York Times. However, most of the prohibitions have long been ignored. The Constitution remained unchanged, though, as many Mexicans still mistrusted the Catholic Church’s power. All churches now have a defined legal status, have the right to conduct religious education, and can own property.
Body Temperature Revision
For over a century, the average human body temperature has been accepted as 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit [37° C.], the result of a paper published by Carl Wunderlich in 1868, based on over a million measurements of body temperature in 25,000 adults. This was quite a feat, since it took thermometers of the time about 15 or 20 minutes to record temperatures, and they had to be read while still in place in the armpit. However, Philip A. Mackowiak at the University of Maryland School of Medicine says that the figure should be changed, as his studies showed that 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit “was not the overall mean temperature, the mean temperature of any of the time periods studied, the median temperature, or the single most frequent temperature recorded.” In fact, it accounted for only 8 percent of the 700 readings taken. The average body temperature, he says, should be 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit [36.8° C.].