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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "The other campaign," Feb. 9, 2008

Pregnancy and caffeine

Two new research studies on pregnancy and caffeine consumption add conflicting data to a long-brewing question: Should expectant mothers abstain from caffeine? A Mount Sinai medical school study published in the journal Epidemiology concluded that drinking moderate amounts of coffee-about 1.7 cups of coffee-won't increase a woman's likelihood of miscarrying. But a Kaiser Permanente study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology called the same amount a "high" dose of caffeine and concluded that women consuming that amount or more doubled their risk of miscarriage.

Not to worry, said physician Gene Rudd, senior vice president of the Christian Medical Association: The Kaiser study "adds a little bit of a new layer of caution, but these articles, when they come out, are not the final answer. They simply add to the body of evidence out there that says 'drink responsibly.'"

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Rudd, who specializes in obstetrics/gynecology and maternal/fetal medicine, said he isn't ready to change what he's been telling expectant moms since the 1970s: There is some evidence for concern over caffeine in high doses. But two small cups of coffee a day, or their caffeine equivalent "is probably safe," he said, based on 40 years of scientific data. "I tell my patients, if you want to be completely safe, don't drink any."

Eradicating Ebola

February 6 marks an important milestone for health workers and mission staff in northwestern Uganda, where an outbreak of a new type of Ebola virus that began last November can be officially declared over. That is the day that cases tracked for exposure will safely pass the incubation period.

The outbreak ended with 149 cases and 37 deaths. But over 800 people were monitored for exposure, a key component to preventing an epidemic from becoming more widespread-and more deadly. Experts attribute its successful containment to prompt intervention from government, humanitarian, and faith-based organizations. Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Uganda's health ministry, the World Health Organization, and Pennsylvania-based World Harvest Mission, which operates a medical clinic and other ministries in Bundibugyo where the outbreak began, all worked to that end.

"For now, we are pretty much back to life before Ebola, although we do so without our friend and colleague Dr. Jonah Kule, who died in the fight against Ebola," physician Scott Myhre of World Harvest Mission told WORLD. "That was a devastating loss for us and for Bundibugyo."

A "safe" version of Ebola has been developed by researchers, according to a report in this month's Nature, so that the deadly virus can be studied in a variety of lab settings. But given the rare rate of infection it is doubtful that, short of a cure, a vaccine would be developed.

Jose Padilla

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Jan. 22 sentenced Jose Padilla and two terrorist co-conspirators to prison, but almost no one was happy about it. Padilla, 37, drew a prison term of just over 17 years. Conspirators Adham Amin Hassoun, 45, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, 46, drew sentences of 15 years and 12 years, respectively. All three men were convicted in August of conspiracy to murder, maim, or kidnap persons overseas and to provide material support to terrorist groups.

Defense attorneys decried the sentences as overly harsh. But prosecutors say they will appeal them because they are too light. And the judge departed from federal guidelines that required her to sentence all three men to life in prison without parole. Cooke said that the conditions of Padilla's five-year incarceration at the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., had been "harsh," meriting him a lesser sentence.

Early retirement

That voter turnout in Cuba's parliamentary elections was 95 percent and that voters in Fidel Castro's home district reelected him to the National Assembly was no surprise. But the unexpected could come Feb. 24, when the assembly convenes and may or may not choose the 81-year-old ailing dictator as its next council president. Castro could cede the role, a position he has held for over 50 years, permanently to his brother Raoul. Castro recently hinted that he has no intention of clinging to power or standing in the way of a new generation of leaders. He was not well enough to speak to the voters in his district of Santiago-but he did vote.

Go figure

Think biofuels are the answer to global warming and oil dependency? Think again, says the European Union. Its Environmental Audit Committee told parliamentarians that biofuels are ineffective at cutting greenhouse gases and they cost too much. According to MP Tim Yeo, they also "have a detrimental impact on the environment." Turns out biofuels should not be grown on forest land, wetlands, or permanent grasslands, where the carbon produced in planting makes for a net environmental loss. And when existing agricultural land is used for production, food prices are likely to go up, and surpluses shipped to the poor overseas are likely to suffer.

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