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NEWSROOM for July 26, 2001

Aired July 26, 2001 - 04:30   ET


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

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, welcome to your Thursday NEWSROOM. I'm Rudi Bakhtiar.

Here's a quick look at the rundown.

Topping today's show, the latest on the spread of the deadly West Nile virus. Then get your taste buds ready, we're serving up a new low-fat snack in "Science Desk." Moving on to "Worldview," we visit a desert paradise in Chile. And finally, we examine the possible dangers lurking at amusement parks.

Health officials in the southeastern United States are urging residents to take precautions against the potentially deadly West Nile virus. The mosquito-born disease has been confirmed in two dead birds in Georgia, and in Florida, a man tested positive for the disease and has been hospitalized. Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed that case, one Florida county isn't taking any chances. Madison County officials plan to begin aerial spraying against mosquitoes.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on the spread, symptoms and prevention of the disease.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): It's a virus from as far as away as Africa, and now it's spreading throughout the United States. Public health officials are concerned.

DR. STEVEN OSTROFF, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND CORRECTION: Not only CDC but several other federal agencies have been very busy helping to prepare the states to be able to monitor for when and where the virus may be present.

GUPTA (on camera): Since the first case in the summer of 1999, the virus has made its way down the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Florida -- fourteen different states, but the virus has been detected in humans in only three states.

(voice-over): Over the last 2 years fewer than one hundred human cases have been found, although nine of them were deadly. DR. JYOTI SOMANI, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: And it causes high virenia, or high levels of virus that last for a while in birds and because of that mosquitoes will go an bite birds an get infected and then pass the infection on to humans.

GUPTA: If you're infected, most likely you won't even know it. In some cases those infected suffer mild flu-like symptoms: fever, nausea and a fatigue.

JOY WELLS, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA, BOARD OF HEALTH: In a very, very small percentage of the population the virus causes something that's very serious that's called encephalitis.

GUPTA: Certain people are at most risk for the most severe complications. Those who have a weakened immune system from medication or illness, coronary artery disease and diabetes. But people older than 50 are at the highest risk. The mosquitoes spread the virus to birds, animals and humans. And it's those birds that are most likely carrying it around the United States.

In fact a good indication of the virus's presence would be a sudden increase in the number of dead birds in your area.

SOMANI: Logically, the indicator that West Nile virus has made it is illness, usually either in birds or in horses.

GUPTA: Experts do expect that the West Nile virus will continue spreading, but slowly. There's no definitive treatment at this time so prevention remains critical. Wear long sleeves and pants, especially at dusk and dawn. Use a mosquito repellent with deet and avoid areas where mosquitoes might breed, like still water, ponds, and swamps.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


BAKHTIAR: Since it was first detected in the United States two years ago, the West Nile virus has turned up 82 times in the New York City and New Jersey Metropolitan areas. A spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the disease is here to stay. The question is: How do viruses like the West Nile get to the U.S. in the first place?

Rea Blakey reports on the global spread of the disease.


REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Disease- carrying microbes travel quickly around the globe, because people do, potentially exposing more of us to disease.

DR. JIMMY VOLMINK, GLOBAL HEALTH COUNCIL: These diseases are simply taken around the world at lightning speed.

BLAKEY: In February, health officials were baffled by a patient who, after traveling from Africa, arrived in Hamilton, Canada with Ebola-like symptoms. The patient survived. The disease remains unidentified.

And as more people travel to areas with a high disease risk, the threat is multiplying. Forty percent of the people in the world live in areas where there's a risk of malaria. The World Health Organization estimates as many as 500 million cases occur each year, resulting in more than one million deaths.

VOLMINK: I have already seen an increase in the incidence of these diseases, and that trend will continue.

BLAKEY: Tuberculosis disease, once the leading cause of death in the U.S., kills two million people worldwide each year. If global TB control isn't strengthened, the World Health Organization estimates nearly one billion people will be newly infected within the next 20 years. That could result in an estimated 35 million deaths.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: These are two diseases that are treatable, and in many cases preventable.

BLAKEY: Six months' worth of medication to fight TB cost $20 per patient. A bet net treated with insecticide to prevent malaria costs $10, yet many countries cannot afford these simple items.

VOLMINK: In many of these countries, you're not dealing with a single diseases, you are dealing with many diseases simultaneously, and resources have to be found to cope with those.

BLAKEY (on camera): In an increasingly global society, there are new opportunities for trade and travel, but with those opportunities come threats in the form of greater exposure to infectious diseases.

Rea Blakey, CNN, Washington.


BAKHTIAR: For more on infectious diseases, take a look at our "Virus Encounter: special on

And also "In the Headlines," in Macedonia, ethnic Albanian rebels have agreed to withdrawal from territory they seized in a fresh round of fighting. The rebels had taken over at least three areas in Tetovo. U.S. Marine security forces are on standby for possible deployment to Macedonia, and the U.S. Embassy in Skopje was closed Wednesday as a precaution. Ethnic Albanian rebels want greater rights for Macedonia's Albanian minority.

Fionnuala Sweeney will have more on that in a minute, but first, here's Chris Burns with a look at the political talks, which many leaders hope will get back on track.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Skopje picks up the pieces, diplomats try to piece the negotiating process back together. In Tetovo, after days of fresh fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, a NATO envoy has persuaded rebel commanders to pull their fighters back. They're to give up the land they seized around the country's second largest city in recent days. The withdrawal would bring the rebels back behind the July 5 cease- fire line, perhaps giving stalled peace talks another chance.

NATO says the agreement also calls for the safe return of thousands of residents who fled the fighting. Ethnic Macedonians demanding their homes back and accusing Western countries of backing the rebels, rioted in Skopje Tuesday night. They attacked the U.S., British and German embassies, a McDonald's restaurant and a British Airways office.

President Boris Trajkovski urged calm, to give peace talks a chance -- talks aimed at granting ethnic Albanians more rights.

(on camera): Diplomats aren't yet willing to bet when those talks can resume in earnest. For now, they're simply hoping to keep the guns silent.

Chris Burns, CNN, Skopje, Macedonia.



FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ever since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia has been peaceful but anxiously so. While other breakaway republics, Croatia and Bosnia, were consumed by war, Macedonia avoided that fate. But experts consistently warn that the Balkan conflict could go through Macedonia into Europe.

Only last year, the International Crisis Group hailed Macedonia with its majority Orthodox and minority Albanian population as a Balkans multiethnic success story. Ethnic Albanians, however, who comprise about one-third of the population, have long complained of inequality. They want equal recognition under the constitution, their language officially recognized and a state-funded university.

Most Macedonian Slavs, who make up about two-thirds of the population and are mainly Orthodox, say the true objective of ethnic Albanians is to create a greater Albania.

The recent fighting began earlier this year near Macedonia's border with Kosovo. NATO allowed the return of Yugoslav troops to the Serbian border with Kosovo, forbidden since the Bosnian War. The aim, to prevent the flow of former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and weapons across the border into Macedonia to help their militant ethnic Albanian brethren. That deployment antagonized Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, who regard the Yugoslav forces as their oppressors. Increased fighting led to a stream of refugees, both Albanian and Slav, fleeing Macedonia.

Macedonia now joins the list of conflicts stemming from the slow, but violent, disintegration of the former Yugoslavia as local ethnic conflicts escalate into major humanitarian crisis eventually leading to outside involvement of the U.S., the European Union, including NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia and international peacekeeping forces.

Beyond the former Yugoslavia, neighboring Greece identifies closely with Macedonia's Orthodox Slavs and opposed NATO's bombing of Kosovo in 1999. The risk is that Greece, a NATO member, could become involved in the conflict on the Macedonian side.

All this as the current cease-fire in Macedonia is overtaken by more intense fighting. The fear is that the country and the region could be lurching towards another Balkans war.

Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, London.


BAKHTIAR: We have a flavorful "Science Desk" today, chock full of peanuts. Now you might be interested to know that two peanut farmers have been elected president of the United States. That would be Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter. Or did you know that there's a documented fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth? It's called -- let me try this -- arachibutyrophobia. Talk about getting stuck to your mouth. But for the rest of us, this popular legume may have a lot to offer.

CNN's Alexa Lee has the scoop on what's new in the world of peanuts.


ALEXA LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, close your eyes. Small that. What does that smell like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells like a peanut; actually, it tastes like a peanut.

LEE (voice-over): And it should. This flat, square, brownish looking thing is called a "peanut chip," a new invention that takes the old familiar peanut, whips it into shape, and turns it into a super food.

YAO-WEN HUANG, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Not only low fat, high protein; you do have the essential nutrients such as folic acids.

LEE: The chip, which actually looks more like a cracker, was invented by University of Georgia food researcher Dr. Yao-Wen Huang. Huang and his students create products from under-utilized food elements. In this case, the main ingredients are peanut pellets -- basically peanut waste left over from peanut oil production. They add in other ingredients such as sugar, soy flour, peanut flour and then bake to create something that is tasty, crunchy, and a bit different.

(on camera): Dr. Huang's recipe has stirred up interest from companies big and small, as well as from peanut farmers who find this to be promising. (voice-over): Peanut consumption in the U.S. is slowing climbing back up after falling off 15 percent in the late '80s. Aggressive marketing campaigns have been launched to highlight the peanut's nutritional attributes over its fatty image. And this chip, at 100 calories per 10 to 15 pieces, could be a step in the right direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has a sweet kind of quality to it.

LEE: Alexa Lee reporting.


BAKHTIAR: In "Worldview" today, we head to the desert. Grab a glass of water because it's a dusty and dry trip. First, we'll take a minibus tour of some U.S. deserts and then we spend some time in the diverse landscape of Chile.

The South American nation of Chile is a tourist paradise. It boasts an incredibly varied landscape where there's something for just about everybody. It's nearly 3,000 miles long but only about 265 miles across at its widest point. And in that distance the terrain changed dramatically. The beaches along the coast give way to rolling hills, then inland valleys and deserts and then finally, the imposing Andes Mountains. Some places in Chile never receive a drop of rain; others are covered in snow year round. You can be at sea level one day and climbing 22,000 foot peaks the next.

Stephanie Oswald visits Chile and takes us to a place that's an example of all the country has to offer.


STEPHANIE OSWALD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether you're watching the sun melt into the Chilean sky, witnessing a field of geysers come to life before dawn or sand boarding down your own personal mountain float, one point is clear, the Atacama may be one of the driest deserts in the world. But it's filled with an ocean of natural sensations.

It's a land of spacious skies and rugged mountains where nature's characters burst on the scene unannounced and leave just as suddenly. The Atacama Desert stretches like a 600-mile snake between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains at more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

A pocket of life in the desert, San Pedro De Atacama is a community of about 3,000 residents and a gateway into northern Chile. Dusty but cheerful village streets greet travelers from around the world leading to the local market where souvenirs are plentiful and to the town museum for a glimpse into the ancient Atacama world. But it's the journey into the desert that seems to stay etched in travelers' minds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot imagine to find a place like this in a desert. It's amazing. It's -- what is really incredible in this place just to find so many different landscape. For me to come here was -- it was a dream. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, it's like another planet. Sometimes I wonder I'm on Mars.

OSWALD (on camera): On our first afternoon, my adventure of choice is in the saddle. Horseback riding is a great way to introduce yourself to the Atacama region. It's best to save the more strenuous activities for the second or third way, once your body has had a chance to get used to the high altitude.

(voice-over): Our steeds have no problem with the altitude and it's a remarkable ride. The parade of natural wonders continues the next morning at the El Tatio geyser. Dressed warmly for our predawn escapade, we watch the earth wake up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's absolutely out of this world. I mean you go out of the hotel at night and you drive and drive and drive and you get there, there's nothing going. And then you go out and you freeze and suddenly everything's closed. And then the sun comes out and it's -- you start seeing rainbows and colors. And it's changing all the time. It's incredible. It's a very special place.

OSWALD: And afterwards, another hour or so on rough terrain. The drive seems endless at times but it makes our next destination even more spectacular. The springs of Puritama, a paradise of warm water, waterfall massages and floating snacks.

GIOVANNA RAINERI, EXCURSION DIRECTOR, EXPLORA EN ATACAMA: Nature is so powerful that you never get tired of it. I mean, every day is different even if you're in the desert. People think the desert is a very -- I mean that every day is the same. But it's very different.

OSWALD: We explored with Camilo Silva, a Chile native who has spent six years introducing travelers to the gems of Atacama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We try to do things without a lot of tourists because the special thing is the landscapes here. It's not us. And when it's full of tourists, it's impossible to enjoy. It's -- that's the reason we look and we found the special places -- nobody goes there and we bring people there.

OSWALD: We trek through the amazing Valley of the Moon where no rainfall has ever been recorded. And stare across desolate salt flats, a permanent mineral blanket that's a brilliant and unexplained natural phenomenon. We discover flocks of flamingos, sharing hours with pure nature untouched by civilization.

There are more than 30 different excursions in all with varying levels of physical activity. Each offers a different taste of South American archaeology, history and geology.

ALEJANDRO GOICH, MANAGER, EXPLORA EN ATACAMA: I think the concept of rest; I think it's changing. It's not to go somewhere and do nothing. I think it's to go somewhere and to do something different. It's exploration of the landscape here, of the culture and finally some exploration of yourself. OSWALD: One of the newest home bases for these excursions, the Explora en Atacama. The luxury hotel opened in August 1998. It's a bit out of place in the sparse countryside but for adventurous soles who desire pampering with their play, it's a genuine oasis in the desert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we've never been in a hotel like this in our short life -- never, never ever. So it's absolutely gorgeous and I would recommend it to everybody.

OSWALD: The main lodge is where you'll find the dining room, a bar and plenty of space to relax and mingle. It's all integrated with the nature and the culture of the region. For example, the walls are decorated with the traditional coats of the Atacamian Indians.

Comfortable guest rooms sport volcano views, bathrooms with giant showerheads and Jacuzzi tubs for soaking after a long day of exploring. So today's Atacama satisfies the needs of the discriminating traveler with a hearty appetite for adventure and a heart felt appreciation for nature.


BAKHTIAR: As you learned, the Atacama is an arid region in Chile. It's only one of many vast deserts around the world. A desert is defined as a dry, barren, sandy region, but deserts have different kinds of soils and landscapes.

Did you know that deserts cover about one-fifth of the land surface around the globe? Guess which desert is the largest in the world? Here's a clue: It's in Northern Africa and it's about three- and-a-half million square miles. If it's tough to imagine something that big, picture this: It's about as big as the entire United States. That desert is the Sahara. Another famous desert is the Kalahari in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Nomadic bushmen live there. Some of the best known deserts in the United States include the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, both in California, the Painted Desert in Arizona and the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah.

It's summertime and millions of people have been spending their vacation days at amusement parks. But how safe are they? Industry officials say theme park rides are safer than riding in a car, but many critics disagree saying there are dozens of hidden dangers you may not be aware of.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has that story.


DAVID ZUCKER, BRANDON'S FATHER: It was a lot of fun. We were having a great time.

VICTORIA ZUCKER, BRANDON'S MOTHER: Just watching my children enjoy themselves was a good enough birthday for me.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): David and Victoria Zucker say it was all to end on the last ride of the day at Disneyland.

D. ZUCKER: I miss him everyday, everyday.

GUTIERREZ: U.S. theme parks and attractions draw nearly 320 million visitors each year according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the CPSC.

BRETT LOVEJOY, INTL. ASSN. OF AMUSEMENT PARKS & ATTRACTIONS: There's no safer place for American families to go to than one of America's amusement parks.

GUTIERREZ: In fact, CPSC statistics show your risk of being seriously injured at a theme park is one in 23 million.

BARRY NOVACK, ATTORNEY: There have been injuries, we know there have been injuries.

GUTIERREZ: Critics argue those numbers are misleading because not all states require theme parks to report injuries. They are calling for federal oversight.

LOVEJOY: That's another claim that folks have made, and that again is not correct. Accidents and injuries are reported to local and state authorities.

GUTIERREZ: 1997, Bell's Amusement Park, Tulsa, Oklahoma: A 14- year-old is killed and six others injured after a roller coaster collision. The ride has since been dismantled. Repeated calls to the park were not returned; 1999, Gillian's Wonderland Pier, New Jersey: A mother and daughter die when they're ejected from a roller coaster. That ride has been removed.

Attorneys for the park say the case is in litigation. Last month, Pearl Santos dies after riding the Goliath Roller Coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia California. Park officials say their ride is safe. The coroner says Santos may have had a preexisting medical condition.

In California, this year alone, 43 injuries have been reported to state officials under a new California law.

(on camera): On September 22, 2000, Brandon Zucker fell out of a ride at Disneyland. It would forever change his life.

V. ZUCKER: He can't eat solid food. He can't walk, he can't talk.

GUTIERREZ: For now, 5-year-old Brandon cannot even go home. He is severely brain damaged and lives in a rehabilitation center for children locked in a world his parents can no longer reach.

V. ZUCKER: I can't imagine what's going on in his brain. I can't imagine.

GUTIERREZ: It was Victoria Zucker's birthday celebration at Disneyland. After a full day, the Zuckers were ready to call it quits. But the kids wanted one last ride: The Roger Rabbit Ride in Toontown, a kiddy area. The Zuckers say it is the one place they never imagined was dangerous.

AMY FISH-SOLOMON, ZUCKER ATTORNEY: Brandon Zucker, a small 4- year-old child was improperly placed in a ride.

GUTIERREZ: According to the family's attorney, AMY FISH-SOLOMON, Brandon was seated at the opening of the vehicle and was not properly restrained.

FISH-SOLOMON: The vehicle then spun as it's supposed to do, and he plopped right out the side.

GUTIERREZ: A lawsuit filed against Disneyland alleges Brandon was swept up under the vehicle and dragged several feet, his body trapped underneath. Disney declined an on-camera interview, but in a written response told CNN in an independent test cited by Disney, the lap bar in seating position had no bearing on the accident.

"A child of proportions similar to those of Brandon Zucker would be very unlikely to move significantly during the ride." The Zuckers disagree. Their son's injuries were massive.

FISH-SOLOMON: His internal organs were pressed high up into his upper chest. This didn't allow him to breathe.

GUTIERREZ: Brandon did not breathe for more than 10 minutes. He had no pulse. To make matters worse, Solomon says, ride operators are instructed to call their supervisors in the event of an emergency, not 911 directly.

FISH-SOLOMON: Unfortunately there was no one at the supervisor's office. Other calls were made out, precious time was being lost because the initial instruction should be, call 911.

GUTIERREZ: But Disney wrote, "We firmly believe that our emergency response was appropriate." They add, an investigation by the state concluded that "assistance occurred as soon as was possible."

But in a sworn deposition, a Disney employee said Disney has no protocol to call 911 directly in an emergency.

Brandon suffered a fractured pelvis, a broken tailbone, and severe brain damage.

D. ZUCKER: Just seeing him that way, knowing what he was before, it breaks my heart. I miss him every day.

V. ZUCKER: I miss holding him at night and waking up in the morning and having his arms wrapped around me.

GUTIERREZ: Brandon's parents say all they have left now of their once playful boy are memories.

V. ZUCKER: I miss that he's not running around playing, like he's supposed to. Enjoying the sunlight at the beach.

D. ZUCKER: I find myself looking at those videos, the home videos, so I don't forget who Brandon was.

GUTIERREZ: Disney maintains that the ride is safe, that 20 million people have ridden the Roger Rabbit ride, and there has never been an accident like this. The ride has been closed by the state pending the outcome of an investigation. Disney says its complying with state recommendations regarding changes in the ride.

But the Zuckers say that is little consolation for their family.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BAKHTIAR: OK, folks, that's a wrap for us here on CNN's NEWSROOM. We'll be back here tomorrow, same time, same place. See you then.

ANNOUNCER: CNN NEWSROOM is part of Cable in the Classroom, a service of the cable television industry and your local cable company.



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