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New Drug Combination May Shorten TB Treatment

Caty Weaver, Cynthia Kirk and Jerilyn Watson



This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.


And I’m Pat Bodnar. This week on our show: A new combination drug treatment for tuberculosis ...


A big year for baby pandas ...


And the mystery animal of Borneo.



A new drug combination could help reduce the time needed to treat people infected with tuberculosis. Reports say it could expand the number of patients receiving treatment and save millions of lives.

Researchers announced the findings last month at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington, D.C. The new drug combination is supported by the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection. TB usually attacks the lungs, but can affect any organ in the body. Most people infected with the bacteria never develop active TB. Those who do often have weakened defense systems. People with active cases of the disease spread the bacteria through the air when they cough or sneeze.

One third of the world’s population is infected with mycobacterium tuberculosis. About eight million new cases develop each year. Tuberculosis can be deadly. Each year about two million people die of the disease. TB is the leading cause of death for people infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

A bad cough that lasts for weeks can be a sign of tuberculosis. Other possible signs include a pain in the chest, coughing up blood, weakness, weight loss and high body temperature.


The World Health Organization advises patients to take a combination of four drugs to treat tuberculosis. These four antibiotics must be taken for about six months to cure the disease.

Some people, however, take the drugs only until they feel better. Discontinuing treatment is a mistake. The bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotics if people do not follow the directions.

Finding ways to shorten the length of treatment has been a goal of the Stop TB Partnership. This public health campaign was established in two thousand.


In the new study, the South African Medical Research Council tested patients infected with tuberculosis in the lungs. Some also had H.I.V. infections.

The researchers replaced one of the four drugs in the combination currently used to treat TB. They replaced ethambutol with a drug called gatifloxacin.

The scientists reported that the new combination with gatifloxacin can successfully treat TB in four months. They say ethambutol could also be replaced with another drug, moxifloxacin.

Further tests are planned to learn if the new four-month treatment is just as effective as the current six-month treatment. The tests will take place in Benin, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa.



You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English from Washington.

China says two thousand five was a very successful year for its panda reproduction programs. A record-breaking year, in fact.

Chinese officials say twenty-one of the twenty-five baby pandas born in China last year survived. The Xinhua news agency says twelve cubs were born in captivity in two thousand four, and nine of them survived.


Sixteen of the surviving cubs last year came from eleven births. The rare animals are at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in Sichuan province. The other five are in the care of research centers in the cities of Chengdu and Luoguantai and the Beijing Zoo.

Experts say giant pandas in captivity rarely show a natural interest in mating. As a result, pandas born in zoos and research centers are almost always the result of artificial insemination. This is where reproductive fluid from the male is placed inside the female.

Researchers have used this method with giant pandas in China since the nineteen sixties. But it took years to improve the process. Among female pandas, the right conditions for pregnancy happen only a few days each year.

China says it now has one hundred eighty-three giant pandas in captivity. Just over half are at Wolong. China's Ministry of Forestry and the international wildlife group WWF say about one thousand six hundred giant pandas are left in the wild.


More than twenty pandas live in zoos in the United States, Japan, Germany, Austria and Thailand.

In the United States, zoos in San Diego and Washington, D.C., had panda births last year. At the National Zoo in Washington, Tai Shan [pronounced tie-SHON] turned six months old last week. Tai Shan has lived longer than any other panda born at the National Zoo.

His parents arrived in the United States in two thousand. They had been born through the reproduction program at Wolong.

American zoos with pandas on loan from China pay one million dollars a year for the animals.

Tai Shan is expected to be sent to China when he is two years old. He will enter a panda reproduction program. His parents, Mei Xiang [may SHONG] and Tian Tian [tee-YEN tee-YEN], are to be returned to China in two thousand ten.


Wildlife researchers have released two pictures of a mysterious animal on the island of Borneo. Indonesia shares the island with Malaysia and Brunei. The animal is about the size of a house cat. It has dark red hair and a long tail. It also has small ears and large back legs.

Scientists believe the animal may be a meat-eater. If so, it would be the first new kind of carnivore found on Borneo in more than one hundred years. The scientists hope to confirm the animal’s identity by catching one.

Stephan Wulffraat of the Netherlands is supervising studies of the animal for WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund. Mister Wulffraat says local people on Borneo who saw the pictures said they had never seen the animal before.

The Dutch biologist says several local wildlife experts had the same reaction. Some thought it looked like a lemur, but he says most thought it was a new species of carnivore.

WWF researchers say the creature could be a new kind of marten or civet cat -- or a completely new species.

The pictures were made when the animal entered a camera trap. The camera was in a rainforest in Kayan Mentarang National Park, on the Indonesian side of Borneo.


WWF also reported that large areas of forest in Borneo are being cleared to produce rubber, palm oil and wood products. The group says the animal might remain a mystery forever if its home is not protected.

It says it is working to get Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei to protect an especially valuable part of the island from development. The area is known as the heart of Borneo. The land includes almost twenty-one million hectares of rainforest. WWF says protecting the heart of Borneo would help both wildlife and people.

The group reported in April that at least three hundred sixty-one new kinds of animals were discovered on the island in recent years. The discoveries took place between nineteen ninety-four and two thousand four. The report also said there are probably thousands of new plants and animals still to be found.

Only on Borneo and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra do orangutans, elephants and rhinoceros live together. All of them are in danger of disappearing. Other threatened animals on Borneo include clouded leopards, sun bears and Bornean gibbons. The Bornean gibbon is a small ape that lives only on that island.



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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Cynthia Kirk, Jerilyn Watson and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. I’m Bob Doughty.


And I’m Pat Bodnar. Internet users can read and listen to our programs at Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.