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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM for October 26, 2000

Aired October 26, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: Hi there, everyone. We're back with a science-filled NEWSROOM. I'm Shelley Walcott. Let's get things under way.

Grab a tissue. Flu season may be just around the corner.

From the lab to the grocery store, we take a bite out of bioengineered food in "Science Desk."

Then, on exhibit in "Worldview," life in a refugee camp.

The doctor's back in for "Chronicle." Can you help solve a microscopic mystery?

The United States is gearing up to fight a potentially vicious flu season, but its main weapon, the flu vaccine, is in short supply right now.

Production delays are throwing off schedule distribution of the flu vaccine. The vaccine helps protect against influenza, a viral respiratory infection divided into three types: A, B and C. A and B are responsible for epidemics. C is less severe, with mild or no symptoms. Fever, respiratory problems, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and nausea are common flu symptoms. People with weak immune systems are more likely to develop deadly complications.

Influenza tends to occur in wavelike epidemics throughout the world. One of the worst cases on record was in 1918 when at least 20 million people died from the so-called "Spanish Flu." Five-hundred thousand of those deaths were in the United States. Some scientists theorize the outbreak started at a U.S. Army base then spread to Europe as soldiers headed there for World War I.

So as you can see, whether it's a grandparent, sibling or friend, no one is immune from the flu, and doctors encourage almost everyone to get vaccinated.

Because of the temporary shortage of flu vaccine, the United States surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher, is urging people most vulnerable to the illness get the first shots.

Holly Firfer has more now on this and what we can expect this flu season.


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's here and it's spreading. According to surveillance data, flu cases have been reported across the U.S. since early October. Because reporting is a complicated process, the number of flu cases is not yet known, but thought to be relatively small. One expert is willing to make some predictions.

DR. STEVEN MOSTOW, UNIV. OF COLORADO HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER: Usually, when we see early cases of influenza, as we have been seeing, it generally portends a worse than normal season. So if I look into my crystal ball, I'm going to have to say that I'm predicting a worse than usual season for influenza.

FIRFER: Although most health experts agree it's very difficult to predict a virus that's constantly mutating and travelling at the rate of face-to-face exposure, studying and tracking this disease since 1966 gives Dr. Steven Mostow decades of insight to make certain predictions.

The delay in the flu vaccine does not worry health experts at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says they won't forecast the flu, but they will evaluate the previous year's results and highlight trends.

DR. WALT ORENSTEIN, CDC: Generally, the flu season peaks between January and March. Over the last 18 years, 14 of those years peaked between January and March.

FIRFER: Mostow, on the other hand, sees something else. He predicts a peak between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

MOSTOW: I'm predicting -- and I'm going to stand alone here, and maybe far to the left of my colleagues -- but I'm predicting that because we don't have vaccine, even with the anti-virals that we have, that we'll see 40,000 U.S. deaths this year.

FIRFER: That would be double the number of deaths in an average flu year.

MOSTOW: It is a warmup. It's sort of like a preseason game, so that we can train our physicians and nurses about how to react to a killer strain that I expect will come in the next couple of years.

FIRFER: That killer strain, says Mostow, will cause a pandemic outbreak, a new strain with no vaccine and no warning. No one is protected. Pandemics occur every 10-20 years, and by his calculations, we are due.

With the delay in the flu vaccine threatening to become a serious health issue, an appeal to the American public and physicians from the nation's top doctor.

DR. DAVID SATCHER, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: We're urging that, through the month of November, health-care providers focus first on immunizing the elderly and the chronically ill, and women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

FIRFER: Healthy people should wait.

SATCHER: Healthy people, if you will, who should not have anything to worry about in terms of waiting until December are now getting much of the vaccine. I think that's going to change because the message is just getting out.

FIRFER: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, ultimately, there will be more than 75 million doses available, enough for everyone who wants a shot, by mid-December. But only 27 million will be available by the end of this month.

SATCHER: We urge high-risk persons to remain patient but persistent with their health-care providers to obtain their annual flu vaccines when it becomes available.

FIRFER: Dr. Satcher also recommended that those over the age of 65, young children and the chronically ill receive a vaccine for pneumonia. This one-time shot is not a substitute for the flu shot, but will protect those at risk from developing a secondary bacterial infection, a disease that causes more than 12,000 deaths every year.

Holly Firfer, CNN, Atlanta.


WALCOTT: A new debate over bioengineered food. That's the topic of our "Science Desk."

Eileen O'Connor explains.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite a recall by Kraft Food of taco shells that contained bioengineered corn banned for human consumption, the FDA insists bioengineered food is well-regulated and safe.

JOSEPH LEVITT, CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY AND APPLIED NUTRITION: The FDA is confident that the plant foods on the U.S. market today developed through biotechnology are as safe as their conventionally bred counterparts.

O'CONNOR: Bioengineered food is produced from crops that are genetically altered in laboratories to make them more pest-resistant, and in some cases to make them more nutritious. While some argue they hold great potential, others say not enough testing has been done on their long-term effects on health and the environment.

That is why some lawmakers, like California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, are supporting mandatory testing and labelling of bioengineered foods. The FDA says the industry has complied with voluntary testing for all bioengineered foods on the market, but critics say the fact that an unapproved strain of bioengineered corn was found in the taco shells Kraft is recalling proves more regulation is needed.

(on camera): The biotech industry has launched an ad campaign and says it will go along with mandatory pre-market testing, but mainly to boost consumer confidence. As for mandatory labeling, that, they argue, would send the wrong message, implying that bioengineered foods are unsafe.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


WALCOTT: In "Worldview," the culture of Cameroon, a nation you might not know much about. We'll look, listen and learn. Plus, life as a refugee. We'll visit a camp teaching the harsh realities of life uprooted. And we'll examine efforts from Nepal to Canada to keep kids out of war.

TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: You hear a lot about human rights, but did you ever stop to think that human rights are also child rights? The international community recognizes the need to address this matter and to speak out for the rights of all children everywhere. The United Nations is at the forefront with its Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And other groups are joining the movement. One major concern: war and child soldiers. In the past decade, more than 2 million children have been killed and more than 6 million injured or disabled in armed conflicts. A portion of those participate directly in war as soldiers.

Armies use children because they're small and easy to intimidate, among other things. They're often poor and vulnerable as well. The conference on war affected by children held recently in Canada called on countries around the globe to provide greater protection to young people.

But the conference was not without controversy, as Ralitsa Vassileva explains.


RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Children as young as 10 years old are on the front lines of war. The United Nations says some 300,000 are currently serving as soldiers in more than 30 conflicts.

Children are not only soldiers, but victims as well. Half of Rwanda's young have witnessed a massacre. Two million children were killed in conflict over the past decade, most of them in Africa. War has brought immeasurable suffering to the world's most innocent.

But it was only four years ago that the first steps were taken to focus on the issue of children in war zones as a separate entity. The groundbreaking reports by Gracha Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, helped the U.N. draw attention to what conflicts do to children. That concern eventually led to the conference on child warfare.

But not all governments represented in Winnipeg are welcome. A group of mostly Sudanese living in Canada protested the participation of Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Isma'il.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does not deserve to be here to attend a conference of the children, which he is always killing, is he not? They are killing them!

VASSILEVA: They accuse the Sudanese government of helping a rebel army, which, the protesters say, has kidnapped and turned into soldiers thousands of children in neighboring Uganda. The militias have been accused of maiming children, even chopping off the hands of some as punishment.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy says the protest is a sign that the issues are getting the world's attention.

LLOYD AXWORTHY, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We have been quite forceful in saying many of the same things. We have sponsored a resolution at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, we've attempted to get the issue on the table of the Security Council.

VASSILEVA: Lofty as the goals of this conference may be, some young delegates doubt that it will make any real difference back home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The minute they go back to the country, something might happen, or maybe the government will see all of this on T.V. and so, how come you went against us? So maybe I'm speaking on behalf of other countries.

VASSILEVA: Conference organizers hope to begin a process to force governments to ensure better protection for children from conflict, so that war robs fewer children of their innocence and their lives.

Ralitsa Vassileva, CNN.


WALCOTT: Call to put an end to the use of child soldiers is going out around the world. In Nepal, young people staged a street play designed to show the trauma of children forced into conflict. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says many youngsters are kidnapped or forced into joining guerrilla armies. The agency says they often start as messengers or porters but eventually end up on the front line. It's estimated that there are 75,000 such children in South Asia alone. Experts say the youngsters are robbed of their childhood and traumatized for life.

But governments and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are working to stop the practice. The issue will be part of a special session on children at the United Nations next September.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: War does more than make soldiers of young people, it displaces families, forcing them from their homes. It turns millions of people around the world into refugees. A refugee is one who flees from a home or country to seek refuge elsewhere. A refuge is a shelter or protection from danger or difficulty.

What's that like, to be uprooted, frightened and in a strange place? An international organization is trying to paint a picture of the refugees' plight with a traveling exhibit of a refugee camp.

Deborah Feyerick visited the camp a few weeks back on its first stop in New York City.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the heart of Manhattan's Central Park lies a refugee camp created by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group Doctors Without Borders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a Sahara tent, which is mostly used -- is used for desert area, hot environment.

FEYERICK: The camp is designed to make visitors feel, even briefly, what its like to be torn from home.

JOELLE TANGUY, EXEC. DIR., DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Trying to make people, visitors, understand what is the fate of the refugee. What would happen to you if you were uprooted tomorrow? Where would you turn?

FEYERICK: Liberian Hawah Kamara (ph) joined an endless sea of refugees in 1989. All were abandoning their homes to escape a brutal civil war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were so terrorized that we decided as a group, as our family group, to leave our community. We decided to flee into the neighboring country, which was Sierra Leone.

FEYERICK: Today, some 39 million refugees and displaced families are spread out in 128 countries, a population equal to the states of Florida, Michigan and Texas. They are victims of war, starvation, natural disasters.

CHRIS SAUER, VOLUNTEER, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: This isn't a movie. This isn't something that is just fiction. This is -- these are real people who had real lives and are still living real lives now, it's just that that life is much harder, it's much different.

FEYERICK: As seen in the exhibition, people sleep on the ground in fragile, often overcrowded huts or tents. Shoes are made from tires, toys carved from spare wood.

(on camera): Babies are born in refugee camps, couples get married, the sick and the elderly die. Some will spend a couple of months living in a camp; others will languish for decades waiting for peace to come to their country.

(voice-over): Until then, volunteers from Doctors Without Borders will continue moving this camp from city to city hoping people far removed from conflict and disaster will renew their commitment to those in its path.

TANGUY: For each person, it's an issue of life and death. For each family, it's an issue of deciding or finding out whether there's a future for them.

FEYERICK: After its New York area tour, the camp will move to Los Angeles.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


BAKHTIAR: The exhibit has moved on to California. For a schedule of cities, check the Web site,

HAYNES: Refugees and others who leave their homes and countries usually like to hang onto their roots. And even if they end up making their homes in other lands, their culture is often still an important part of their lives. Such is the case with one group of people from Cameroon.

Cameroon is a country in West Central Africa. Its economy is based on agriculture and it's a leading producer of cocoa and coffee. The population consists of more than 150 tribes and ethnic groups. The official languages are English and French.

We turn now to a group of people from Cameroon who are far from home. Still, they keep their heritage in their hearts as they raise money for their homeland.

Stacey Wilkins has the story.


STACEY WILKINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cameroon expatriates are scoring a goal for the homeland. Two-thousand Cameroonian-Americans gathered for their annual convention to celebrate African culture and raise resources for the folks back home.

SANDRA WATONSI, CAMEROON EXPATRIATE: Here at the convention, at the conference that we do have, we talk about issues that are going on down there and what we can do here to help them with their problems or any solutions we can come up with.

NELSON OROCK, CAMEROON EXPATRIATE: We talk about the possible ways we can help our brothers and sisters who are back in Cameroon.

WILKINS: They also came to Atlanta to have some fun.

(on camera): The highlight for Cameroon expatriates was the chance to dance to their own distinctive music in an American dance club.

(voice-over): Cameroonians boogied into the morning hours to African dance music with an infectious beat.

JOEL KALLE, CAMEROON EXPATRIATE: Makossa is our main dance. And while that is celebrated, within Cameroon we have a neighboring country called Zaire, or what they used to call the Congo. They have what -- the Congolese music is about as popular in Cameroon, even more popular.

WILKINS: The commitment continues long after the music ends. Many, like college professor Henry Elonge, struggle to preserve their African roots in their new American homeland.

HENRY ELONGE, CAMEROON EXPATRIATE: As much as we try to retain our essence as Cameroonians, by staying in America, consciously or unconsciously, there's a certain melange, a certain mixture that occurs.

WILKINS: Professor Elonge left the small town of Kumba 20 years ago to come to the United States to pursue his doctorate degree. Today, he teaches business classes at Clark-Atlanta University.

ELONGE: We are presently in a world that is dominated by organizations.

WILKINS: He says teaching gives him a chance to link black Americans with their African roots.

ELONGE: The knowledge that I impart to the students here makes me feel that I am trying to connect that which is African, I'm repairing some damages that occur as a result of slavery.

WILKINS: The lesson doesn't end outside the classroom. Elonge and his wife Clementine work hard to make sure their three American- born daughters appreciate the culture of Cameroon. Food feeds the message. The family regularly prepares a traditional Cameroonian meal together.

CLEMENTINE ELONGE, CAMEROON EXPATRIATE: They tend to be more used to the American way, and I try to bring in the -- instill in the values of Cameroon a little bit. It kind of be a little bit conflict sometimes, but I do the best I can.

WILKINS: A blend of American and African ingredients that keeps Cameroon alive for one family in two worlds.

Stacey Wilkins, CNN, Atlanta.


WALCOTT: In today's top story, we told you about the upcoming flu season. In "Chronicle," we continue our look at infectious disease. Most infections are caused by viruses and bacteria. And certain strains of these germs will do more than give you the cold or flu, they could kill you. Holly Firfer has more on infectious disease, and a mystery of sorts.


FIRFER: Hello, I'm Holly Firfer from CNN's medical unit and I need your help. About 30 local high school students got sick after eating lunch yesterday. I need to figure out what happened. Can you help me get to the bottom of this? This is your mission, if you should chose to accept it.

(voice-over): To solve our mystery, let me give you the facts. About 6:00 p.m. yesterday, 20 students complained of stomach cramps, diarrhea, and some were vomiting. About 10 more said they felt like they had a fever and an upset stomach. All 30 of them ate lunch in the cafeteria that day. By this morning, many of them were taken to the hospital. Doctors say it's an infectious disease. What happened?

Now, to start our mission, there are some things you need to know. Infectious diseases can be spread through the air, by direct skin contact, sexually, through insects, food or water.

Let me give you an example: You're playing hackysack, the hackysack is a germ, you pass it over to your friend, and now he plays and passes it over to another friend. All three of you have touched the germ, really the hackysack, but now all of you have been exposed and infected. It can be that easy.

DR. BRETT FINLAY, HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE: In North America, United States and Canada, infectious diseases are the third leading cause of death.

FIRFER: It's the No. 1 killer throughout the rest of the world. This year, its estimated that 17 million people will die from an infectious disease. According to the World Health Organization, every three seconds a child dies.

(on camera): So as you can see, infectious diseases can be deadly and easily transmitted. So I've enlisted the help of experts, folks who track disease outbreaks, like the one we see with our students, to see if we can crack this case.

(voice-over): First off, we need to do some laboratory testing to figure out what we're dealing with.

DR. SUE BINDER, CDC: Make sure that the appropriate specimens were being collected as people were coming to the hospital, because a lot of times we can make a diagnosis on a sample of blood or a sample of stool.

FIRFER: There are two main types of germs that cause most infections: viruses and bacteria. Viruses cause colds and flu, most coughs and sore throats. They are also responsible for causing chickenpox, herpes, hepatitis, measles and AIDS. Bacteria can cause ear infections, some sinus infections and strep throat, as well as salmonella, E. coli, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and typhoid fever. (on camera): Well, our lab tests are back and the scientists tell us that our students were exposed to a bacteria called E. coli 0157:H7. Now, this is important to know.

DR. DAVID BELL, CDC: When we have illnesses like the cold, like colds and the flu, viral illnesses, antibiotics offer no benefit for these illnesses.

FIRFER (voice-over): For bacterial illnesses, antibiotics can work, so at least our students can get treatment. Our case is going to be tough because, believe it or not, our bodies are covered with bacteria or microbes, and they are literally everywhere. Scientists say we're actually more microbial than human. Microbes outnumber human cells on our body 10-1 and they can multiply very quickly.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATL. INST. OF HEALTH: Unlike humans, which have generations measured in 15 to 20 to 25 years, microbes do that hundreds of times over a period of days to weeks, and thousands of times over weeks to months. So they can really adapt themselves very, very, very easily.

FIRFER: Not all of these microbes are dangerous. In fact, many of them help us to stay healthy. Some aid in digestion, some produce vitamins to assist our growth, and some actually protect against pathogens or the bad bacteria trying to invade our bodies.

BINDER: To paraphrase Madonna, we might say that we're living in a bacterial world and a fungal world and a viral world and a parasitic world. We have organisms living around us, on us and in us.

FIRFER: Get this: In our mouths alone, there can be up to 300 pathogens. So these bacteria we carry can actually help prevent those pathogens from causing cavities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some bacteria causes disease, but sometimes, not always. They pick on people that are sick; if they have weaker immune systems, for example, if they're young, if they're old, if they're starved. Those are the people that are more susceptible to bacterial diseases.

FIRFER: The most common infectious diseases worldwide are pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases, malaria and HIV.

But since we know our case involves bacteria, we can narrow it down. Now comes deductive reasoning.

BINDER: We would be taking the information about the foods that might have been served that day and putting it into a questionnaire format and then asking everybody who was sick what foods they ate.

FIRFER (on camera): The experts say after talking to all of our students, they found out they all had hamburger for lunch.

(voice-over): Oftentimes, food or water can become contaminated with dangerous bacteria like E. coli 0157:H7 or salmonella. If food is not cooked or water not chlorinated properly, these bacteria will survive and end up making you sick.

There are other reasons infectious diseases reach so many.

DR. DAVID HEYMAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: We're going deeper into jungles where diseases like yellow fever are present, which then enter into human populations; we're changing our habits in food preparation, and in so doing we let infectious agents pass through, such as happened in mad cow disease.

FIRFER: You can hop on a plane and within 24 hours be on the other side of the world. With global travel, diseases are being spread to every corner of the Earth.

BINDER: For example, we are used now to walking into a grocery store and we expect to see mangos and papayas and kiwis no matter what time of year it is. These aren't coming from the United States. We no longer have our local farmer providing us with produce. And if these are contaminated with organisms that are endemic or very, very, common in these other countries, we're eating them.

FIRFER: I think we're getting close to solving our case. Let's revisit our facts: 30 people are sick. Symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. They all were sick after eating the same meal at the same place at the same time. After lab tests, our scientists tell us it is a food-borne bacteria called E. coli 0157:H7, which we know can multiply thousands of times and, if it's not killed, can spread quickly. Can you figure out what's happened?

BINDER: That really implies there was a problem at the school and how the hamburger meat was handled, how the food was prepared, or something related to service.

FIRFER: Did you solve the mystery and complete the mission? If so, we might be coming to you, future scientists, to track all our infectious disease outbreaks. Well done, and thanks.


WALCOTT: And Holly will tell us even more about infectious disease on tomorrow's show.

But for now we're feeling pretty good because we're out of here. See you tomorrow.



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