Broadcast: December 9, 2003
This is Science in the News, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Sarah Long. This week -- warnings about the flu season ... and improvements in storm reporting.
Also, a look back at the life of a news reporter who became a leading environmentalist.
Health experts in the northern part of the world say this influenza season could be especially bad. People are getting sick earlier than usual. People over age sixty-five and very young children are most at risk of dying if they get the flu.
Influenza in northern countries is at its highest between December and March. In the southern half of the world, infections are highest between April and September.
Doctors say they are concerned about a new form of the virus that first appeared in Fujian province, China, last year. The Fujian strain caused many cases of the flu in Australia during the recent flu season. And it is now spreading in northern countries.
Public health officials say the best way to reduce the chances of getting influenza is to get a yearly flu shot.
Each year, drug companies manufacture flu vaccines to protect people against current strains of influenza. The virus itself is always changing. So the vaccines change from year to year.
This year’s vaccine, however, is not designed to protect against the Fujian strain. That version of the virus appeared after drug companies had already developed their vaccines for this year.
But the vaccine does include similar strains common in recent years. So health experts say they believe this year’s vaccine will provide some defense against the Fujian strain.
Currently, flu vaccines are injected into the skin or sprayed into the nose. Researchers are also investigating new ways to vaccinate people.
There are three kinds of influenza virus. Influenza A can infect humans and animals, such as pigs, chickens and wild birds. It causes moderate to severe sickness in people of all ages. The Fujian strain is a type A influenza. Influenza B generally causes less sickness than type A. It affects only humans, mostly children. Influenza C also infects only humans, but causes very little sickness.
The influenza virus enters the body through the nose or mouth. It then grows in the body for several days. Signs of influenza include a sudden high body temperature, muscle pain mostly in the back, a sore throat and an unproductive cough. Victims can remain infected for up to seven days after the virus appears. The flu can also lead to pneumonia, a bacterial infection. Hand washing and avoiding crowds are two ways to decrease the chances of getting the flu.
There are lots more facts about influenza on the Web site of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The address is c-d-c dot g-o-v.
In the United States alone, the flu causes thirty-six-thousand deaths in an average year. One-hundred-fourteen-thousand people get sick enough to need hospital treatment. More than half of those treated are under the age of sixty-five.
The name "influenza" comes from Italy in the fifteenth century. People blamed the sickness on the influence of the stars. Experts believe the first pandemic, or worldwide spread, of influenza happened in fifteen-eighty.
The Spanish flu that struck in nineteen-eighteen caused an estimated twenty-one million deaths worldwide.
The CDC says flu pandemics normally happened every ten to forty years. The last one struck in nineteen-sixty-eight. That flu, first seen in Hong Kong, killed around thirty-four-thousand people worldwide. Experts say it was the mildest flu pandemic of the twentieth century.
Weather scientists in the United States say their ability to tell the movement of ocean storms has greatly improved. One study compared recent storms in the North Atlantic with estimates of their expected movement. Early results from the study show that the average mistake for such estimates this year was the smallest ever measured.
The National Hurricane Center provided information for the study. An official with the center says the ability to forecast where storms will move has improved for each of the past four years.
What scientists call the active Atlantic hurricane season, the traditional period for storm activity, ended on November thirtieth. Major ocean storms in the northern half of the world usually develop in late summer or autumn over waters near the Equator.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research says some hurricanes this year followed clear paths. It was easy to tell where they would go. But others followed more unusual paths. The center says differences in the way storms act from year to year can influence the quality of forecasts.
But it says better forecasts of hurricane movements are a result of better computer programs. Those programs now include better wind information collected by instruments dropped by parachute into storms. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research developed these instruments.
The weather experts say their ability to tell the path of a storm has improved one to two percent a year since the nineteen-sixties. In two-thousand, the National Hurricane Center began to use new computer programs to estimate the path for a forty-eight-hour period. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed these programs. Scientists say they can now forecast Atlantic storm movements thirty-five percent better than they could before.
Environmental activists have lost a leader. Ben Metcalfe died October fourteenth in his home in the Canadian province of British Colombia. He had a heart attack. He was eighty-three years old. Ben Metcalfe was a founder of Greenpeace and the first chairman of the group. He was one of the first environmental activists to use the media effectively to gain support for their cause.
E. Bennett Metcalfe was born on October thirty-first, nineteen-nineteen, in Winnipeg, Canada. At sixteen, in England, he joined the Royal Air Force. He first served in India. Mahatma Gandhi was leading a peaceful independence movement. Britain was defending its colonial rule. But stories say Ben Metcalfe chose to drop bombs on empty fields instead of targets in villages.
Mister Metcalfe remained in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. He was based in several countries in Africa, Asia and Europe during his nine years of service. After that, he joined the British Foreign Service as an information officer.
In nineteen-forty-six, Ben Metcalfe became a sports reporter in Paris at the Continental Daily Mail. He continued as a news reporter for many years at different news organizations. He also worked as an independent reporter and as a broadcaster.
In nineteen-seventy, a group of environmental activists formed a committee. They called it Don't Make a Wave. They came together to protest American nuclear weapons testing in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Later they changed the name to Greenpeace.
Ben Metcalfe got involved after reporting on the committee. In nineteen-seventy-one, he and eleven other people sailed a boat toward the testing area. He used his media connections to report on the protest. He would radio his wife, Dorothy, from the boat and she would call the media. The protest added fuel to anti-nuclear demonstrations in Canada. Mister Metcalfe became the first chairman of Greenpeace.
The next year, nineteen-seventy-two, he and others sailed to protest French nuclear testing in the Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific. That year, he also left his position as chairman. Bob Hunter, a former president of Greenpeace, says the group had gone in a new direction. But he calls Ben Metcalfe a giant and a media genius. And Greenpeace says Mister Metcalfe is one of the reasons the organization exists.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jill Moss, George Grow and Caty Weaver. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. 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.