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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - February 18, 2003: First Aid - 2003-02-15


This is Phoebe Zimmerman.


And this is Doug Johnson, with science in the news, VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about some emergency medical methods known commonly as first aid.



First aid is the kind of medical care given to a victim of an accident or sudden sickness before trained medical help can arrive. First aid methods generally are easy to carry out and can be taught to people of all ages. Learning them is important. Knowing how to treat someone in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death.


Each year, thousands of people die after eating or drinking poison substances. Experts say most accidental poisonings happen in or near the home. And most are caused by substances commonly used at home -- medicines, insect poisons, or cleaning fluids.

There are several common signs of poisoning -- a sudden feeling of pain or sickness, burns in the area of the mouth, or an unusual smell coming from a person's mouth.

Health experts generally advise poison victims to drink water or milk. They say, however, to never give liquids to someone who is not awake or to those having a violent reaction to the poison.

Next, seek help from trained medical experts. Save material expelled from the mouth for doctors to examine. Save the container of the suspected poison to answer questions the doctors may have. The container may also describe the substance that halts the poison's effects. Use this substance without delay.


The American red cross says all homes should have at least three substances to deal with poisoning.

One, syrup of ipecac, is a fluid that helps the body expel material from the stomach. Another, activated charcoal, lessens the danger of poisons. The other material, epsom salts, helps to speed the release of body wastes.

All three should be used only on the advice of a medical expert.


The red cross says expulsion of material from the stomach -- vomiting -- sometimes may be started if medical advice is delayed. But it says vomiting should be used only when it is known the victim took too much of what is called a general poison, such as a medicine.

The experts say never cause vomiting if the victim was poisoned by a petroleum product or by a substance that was a strong acid or a strong alkali. These victims should be taken to a medical center as soon a possible.



Many emergency medical methods are simple and easy to carry out. For example, several years ago, a five-year-old boy in the American state of Massachusetts was playing with a young friend. Suddenly the friend stopped breathing. A piece of candy was stuck in her throat.

The boy remembered a television program where the same thing had happened. He also remembered what people on the television program did to help the person who had stopped breathing.

The boy quickly used the same method on his friend. The candy flew out of the girl's throat. She was breathing again. The young boy had saved his friend's life.


The simple method used by the five-year-old boy is called the Heimlich maneuver. It was developed by an American doctor, Henry Heimlich.

The Heimlich maneuver can be done in several different ways.

If a choking victim is sitting or standing, you should stand directly behind him. Put your arms around the victim's waist.

Make one of your hands into the shape of a ball, and place it over the top part of the stomach, below the ribs.

Next, put one hand over the other and push in and upward sharply. Repeat the method until the object is expelled.

A choking victim who is on the floor and not awake should be rolled on his or her back. Place the bottom of one hand over the upper part of the stomach. Put the other hand over it and push in quickly with an upward movement. Repeat this until the object is expelled.



A method called cardiopulmonary resuscitation -- CPR -- can save the victims of heart attacks, drowning and shock.

These people are suffering what is called cardiac arrest.

C-P-R is designed to increase the natural ability of a person's heart and lungs. Experts say it greatly increases the chances that a heart attack victim will survive.

If you see a victim of cardiac arrest, first position the victim's head and neck so that the air passages are not blocked.

If the person is not breathing, start a method called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Press shut the victim's nose as you place your mouth over the victim's mouth. Blow into the victim's lungs. The first two such breaths should last about one-and-one-half seconds each.


If there is no heart beat, attempt to re-start the victim's heart by pushing down on the victim's chest. Place one hand over the other, and push firmly on the victim's breast bone. Push down the person's chest about five centimeters, at a rate of about eighty to one-hundred times each minute.

If you are working alone, you must do both jobs. Breathe two times into the victim's mouth for every fifteen times you push down on the chest.



Health experts say even the smallest cut in the skin lets bacteria enter the body. So they urge correct treatment of all wounds.

If the bleeding is not serious, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water. Then, cover the wound with a clean cloth, gauze or other kind of dressing.

If the bleeding does not stop quickly or if the wound is large, put pressure directly on the wound. Place a clean cloth on the wound and hold it firmly in place. A hand may be used if a cloth cannot immediately be found.

If this does not stop the bleeding, push the supplying blood vessel against a nearby bone. This still may not stop all the bleeding. So, also put pressure directly on the wound.

There are two places, or points, on each side of the body where pressure is most often useful. If an arm or hand is bleeding, the pressure point is on the inner part of the upper arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. Bleeding from a leg wound can be slowed by pressure to the blood vessel at the front, inner part of the upper leg.


If an arm or leg is seriously damaged, a device called a tourniquet may be used to stop the bleeding. It should be used only when bleeding threatens the victim's life.

A tourniquet may be made with any flat material about fifty millimeters wide. It could be a piece of cloth, or a belt.

However, a rope or wire should not be used because they damage the skin.

Place the material around the arm or leg, between the wound and the body, and tie the ends together. Then, put a stick in the tied knot. Turn the stick slowly until the flow of blood stops. The stick can be held in place by another piece of cloth.

A tourniquet may be left in place for one or two hours without causing damage.


When a wound is thought to be infected, let the victim rest. Physical activity can spread the infection. If medical help is delayed, treat the wound with a mixture of salt and water. Add nine-and-one-half milliliters of salt to each liter of boiled water. Place a clean cloth in the mixture. Then, remove the extra water from the warm cloth and put the cloth on the wound. Be careful not to burn the skin.


The first aid methods described in our report can be done by persons with no medical education. But experts say some training is desirable. This will help make sure the techniques are done safely and effectively.

First aid skills are taught in many parts of the world by groups such as the red cross or red crescent. To learn more, talk with health experts in your area.



This Science in the News program was written and produced by George grow. This is Phoebe Zimmerman.


And this is Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.