Science News Digest

This is Bob Doughty. And this is Steve Ember with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about the disease AIDS in China. We tell about a study of hospital admissions. And we tell about the threat of an earthquake in the Himalayan Mountains.

China has admitted for the first time that the nation has a serious problem with the deadly disease AIDS. A top Chinese health official said the disease may be spreading two times as fast as earlier reported. Deputy Health Minister Yin Dakui talked to reporters in Beijing last month about the AIDS crisis in his country. He said efforts to control the disease have failed. One of the reasons is because local health leaders and the public have refused to consider it a serious problem. He also said some local officials do not provide true information about the number of people in their areas who have H-I-V. H-I-V is the virus that causes AIDS.

The Chinese government also admitted for the first time that many Chinese have become infected because of unsafe methods used to collect their blood. Many poor people in China gain money by selling their blood at blood stations. The blood is used in hospitals and to make some drugs. Mr. Yin said about six percent of H-I-V victims have been infected while selling their blood. However, other Chinese experts believe many more people have become infected this way.

Chinese officials say about seven percent of the people infected with AIDS got the disease through sexual activity. The government says seventy percent of the AIDS patients became infected through the use of unsafe needles to inject drugs. Mr. Yin says China will take steps to control the spread of the disease. He promised new public education campaigns and efforts to improve the safety of selling blood at blood banks.

Mr. Yin repeated the government's official estimate that six-hundred-thousand people in China had H-I-V at the end of last year. But he added that the number of new H-I-V cases recorded by government health officials has increased sixty-seven percent from one year ago.

However, international health organizations have estimated that more than one-million people in China are infected with the AIDS virus. They say that number could increase to as many as twenty-million in ten years if action is not taken to stop the spread of the disease.

The Chinese government has asked experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control for help. American experts have visited China to study the situation and provide advice. Helene Gayle is an official with the Centers for Disease Control. Doctor Gayle recently spent five days in China. She says American and Chinese experts talked about educating the public about H-I-V. She says lack of education about the disease is a major threat. They also discussed ways to record the number of cases. And they discussed treatment methods.

Doctor Gayle says AIDS in China mainly affects people in high-risk groups. But she says the disease could quickly spread to the general population through unprotected sex. She says very few people in China use protective devices during sexual relations. And she says very few Chinese understand how AIDS is spread. So they cannot protect themselves from getting the disease.

Doctor Gayle said China would have great difficulty caring for a large number of AIDS patients. She said the problem would be too great for China's health system. Some Chinese and American scientists say it appears the Chinese government is now willing to release AIDS information and is ready to deal with the problem.

You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Steve Ember with Bob Doughty in Washington.

A Canadian study suggests that patients are more likely to die in a hospital from some conditions if they are admitted on weekends instead of during the week.

Chaim Bell and Donald Redelmeier of the University of Toronto organized the study. They examined almost four-million patient admissions at hospital emergency rooms. All of the patients were admitted to hospitals in Ontario, Canada between Nineteen-Eighty-Eight and Nineteen-Ninety-Seven.

The Canadian researchers studied hospital records for the one-hundred most common causes of death. They found that the risk of death for twenty-three of the causes was greater if a patient was admitted during a weekend. For the study, a weekend was any time between late Friday to early Monday.

The Canadian researchers note that many hospitals have fewer employees working on weekends. These employees have less experience. There also are fewer hospital supervisors on weekends.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the findings. The Journal also published a commentary by doctors at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. The doctors questioned some of the findings. They said that the day of the week the patient was admitted made no difference for seventy-seven of the one-hundred conditions. They noted that the study did not show an increase in deaths from many common disorders, such as heart attacks and strokes. They also said cancer was responsible for more than half of the deaths reported in the study.

American and Indian scientists say new evidence shows that India and nearby countries are in danger of suffering a huge earthquake in the future.

A recent study found rock activity and pressure under the Himalayan Mountains and the Tibetan plateau. The researchers say there is evidence that such pressure has been eased in the past only through great earthquakes.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Indian Institute for Astrophysics reported the study in the publication "Science." They say the pressures in the rock under the ground will continue to increase as the land pushes into Asia. Scientists say the land is moving about two meters every one-hundred years. This continued movement of rock against rock causes many small earthquakes.

One researcher says parts of the Himalayas have not had a major earthquake for at least five-hundred years. The last major Himalayan earthquake took place in the Indian state of Assam in Nineteen-Fifty. It measured eight-point-five on the Richter Scale. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.

The new study says another similar earthquake in the area would threaten about fifty-million people. That is because the number of people in the Ganges plain just south of the mountains has grown ten times in the past one-hundred years.

Such an earthquake would endanger major cities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Researchers say at least two-hundred-thousand people might die in such an earthquake.

The researchers say the governments in those countries need to strengthen buildings to prepare for the possibility of such an event. They say new designs for buildings that are resistant to earthquakes should be taken very seriously.

They also say that it appears the changes meant to strengthen buildings have not reduced the number of people killed in a major earthquake.

One example is the earthquake in the western Indian city of Bhuj in January. That earthquake killed about twenty-thousand people. That earthquake also was caused by the earth's movement. But it did nothing to ease the pressure hundreds of kilometers to the north and east that could produce an even stronger earthquake.

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

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - September 18, 2001: Digest
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2001-09/a-2001-09-17-2-1.cfm?renderforprint=1