SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2098 - Digest

By StaffThis is Sarah Long.And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about a drug in many common medicines that may increase the risk of strokes. We tell about a link between sinus infections and a deadly disease. We tell about the dangers of indoor air pollution. And we tell about the discovery of the oldest living creature.

The American Food and Drug Administration says it will take steps to ban products containing the drug phenylpropanolamine. The drug is often called P-P-A. The drug is in hundreds of medicines to treat colds, coughs and allergies. It also is in products to help people eat less and lose weight.

Last week, the F-D-A warned people not to take products containing P-P-A. It said the warning is for about four-hundred products. The F-D-A also asked drug companies to withdraw the products from the market. Americans have used some of these products to treat colds for more than fifty years.The action was based on a new five-year study by researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The research suggests that P-P-A may increase the risk of a rare but deadly kind of stroke among women under the age of fifty. This kind of stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. It is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

The researchers studied more than seven-hundred patients who had suffered hemorrhagic strokes. All of the patients were under the age of fifty. The study also included people who had not had strokes. The study found that women who took P-P-A to lose weight were as much as fifteen times more likely than other women to suffer bleeding in the brain. People who used the drug for the first time to treat a cold were three times as likely to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke.However, a spokesman for a group that represents drug companies disputed the findings. He says P-P-A products are safe and effective when used as directed. Public health officials had been concerned about the drug's safety since the Nineteen-Eighties. This is when the F-D-A began receiving reports that some people taking the drug had suffered strokes. F-D-A records show only forty-four cases of this kind of stroke among P-P-A users in the past thirty years. Most of the patients were women. However, F-D-A officials now estimate that between two-hundred and five-hundred hemorrhagic strokes are linked to P-P-A each year.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Severe sinus infections are common, but extremely difficult to cure. American scientists think they have found what causes the problem.

Research scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland reported the discovery. They suspect that severe sinus infections are linked to a gene that causes a deadly disease called cystic fibrosis.

About thirty-million Americans suffer severe sinus infections. Patients develop blocked breathing passages in the sinuses. This area behind the nose can become extremely painful.

Cystic fibrosis is a disease that attacks children and young adults. It causes thick, sticky fluid to build up in the lungs and breathing passages. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder. It results when someone has two copies of the gene responsible for the disease.Garry Cutting of Johns Hopkins University led the study. He says most people with cystic fibrosis have severe sinus infections. He says this shows that the gene influences how the sinuses operate.

The researchers wondered if people in the general population had the cystic fibrosis gene. They knew that sinus sufferers would not have exactly the same gene as people with the disease.

The researchers examined one-hundred-forty-seven people with sinus infections. Seven percent of them had one copy of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. The researchers note that this is not a large percentage. However, it is more than they had expected.

Doctor Cutting says the goal of his team now is to confirm its findings. The team plans to test the blood of other sinus sufferers. It also wants to learn if cystic fibrosis treatments will help people with sinus problems.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Bob Doughty with Sarah Long in Washington.


The United Nations World Health Organization says millions of people die because of indoor air pollution. It says most victims live in developing countries.

Dietrich Schwela is a pollution scientist for the W-H-O. He says indoor air pollution is common in developing countries because people there use open stoves. They cook food on the stoves. And, the devices produce heat for their homes.

Mr. Schwela says that many houses in developing countries do not use chimneys. Chimneys are tall, narrow structures with an opening at the top. They usually are made of building materials or metal. The opening of the chimney should rise through the top of the building.

A fire can be built at the bottom of the chimney. Chimneys permit smoke to travel up and out of the house. They protect people in the house from breathing in much of the smoke.Mr. Schwela says chimneys in developing countries often are not built correctly. He says this is especially true in African nations. The W-H-O scientist says chimneys there often end one or two meters below the top of the house. This means the smoke travels up and then around the inside of the building.

Mr. Schwela says such buildings have air with very small and dangerous pieces of matter, such as dust and ash. This can cause breathing disorders, lung cancer, and diseases of the heart and lungs.

Mr. Schwela says women and small children are most at risk. That is because they spend more time in the house than adult males. The W-H-O estimates that five-hundred-thousand children in India die each year from indoor air pollution. In Africa, about that many children die from the problem.

Mr. Schwela advises people not to use open stoves. He says they also should not use wood and some other natural fuels inside buildings. Mr. Schwela says natural gas and kerosene are much better fuels for cooking and heating. And, he says people should have a chimney that sucks smoke out of the house.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))American scientists have reported finding the oldest living organism. The scientists say the organism - a bacterium - is two-hundred-fifty- million years old. Russell Vreeland of West Chester University in Pennsylvania and his team announced the discovery. Mr. Vreeland and his team discovered the bacterium in the southwestern United States. They found it near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in an ancient piece of salt. The salt crystal came from a thick underground rock formation. Ancient remains and radiation show that the rock formation is two-hundred-fifty-million years old.The scientists suggest the area was a large salt lake millions of years ago. The organism was found in a tiny amount of fluid inside a salt crystal. The scientists believe the bacterium was trapped inside the crystal and survived until the present. They believe the bacterium formed a spore in the salt crystal. A spore is an extremely small structure that can grow into an organism.

The American scientists say they used extreme care to clean the surface of the salt crystal. They removed the fluid from inside the crystal. When the fluid was mixed with nutrients, the bacterium appeared.

Professor Vreeland says the bacterium is about two times older than the oldest reported organism. He says tests showed no sign of it being harmful or a cause of disease. The tests showed the bacterium belongs to a common group of bacteria found in soil, water and dust.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson, George Grow and Caty Weaver. It was produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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