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Associated Press/Photo by Chelsea Kennedy

Mistreating Haitians

Science | Official guidelines may have led to ineffective antibiotics for earthquake victims

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Last year's earthquake in Haiti prompted 10,000 organizations to send relief workers to the stricken nation. Many were medical personnel who, if they were following antibiotic treatment advice from the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may have been giving injured patients less-than-ideal medicine.

Following the quake, a team of Israeli doctors set up a 72-bed mobile hospital and treated over 700 victims, most injured days before in their homes from falling cinder blocks. Most of them hadn't received any anti­biotics before arriving at the hospital-and they were often carried in by family members. In addition to treatment and surgery, the doctors took random swabs of several wounds: Later analysis showed that the majority of the bacterial infections found were resistant to the main antibiotics WHO and CDC recommend for disaster response teams. The Israeli doctors say studies of pathogens found during other earthquakes confirm their findings, and in a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month they advised response teams to carry a second class of antibiotics to treat the resistant germs.

The unique infections the team encountered might be due to the filthy earthquake conditions-or to Haiti's warm climate. At any rate, they reveal a need for doctors to know what pathogens they'll encounter in certain locations and situations.

Wild fight

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Standing in front of an outdoor equipment store in Denver on the day before Christmas Eve, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled a new public land policy. It gives the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the discretion (with the promise to consider public input) to begin designating millions of acres as "Wild Lands," where the government will likely ban activities like oil and gas drilling. About 13 percent of the United States lies within the agency's jurisdiction.

While the outdoor recreation industry welcomes the business new land protection could bring them, the announcement stirred anger in Alaska, the state with the largest share of BLM land (about 80 million acres). Officials there say the agency is skirting federal law and attempting to tighten control on land use without congressional oversight. County officials in Utah, who've been fighting to keep public lands open to energy exploration, hinted they would challenge the new policy in court.

House Republicans promised to consider the issue in the new Congress.

Methane cap

Earlier reports predicted the 200,000 tons of methane that surged from the Macondo well during last year's Gulf oil spill could take years to disappear, but a new study suggests it was nearly gone within four months. Ocean bacteria that consume methane formed a "vigorous deepwater bacterial bloom" in the wake of the spewing

gas, the study authors wrote. Environmentalists worried that the methane, a potent greenhouse gas, would escape into the atmosphere: New calculations estimate only a fraction of 1 percent did so.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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