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ACUPUNCTURE There is growing scientific evidence that acupuncture, a pillar of Chinese medicine, can relieve many kinds of pain, but there's no clear agreement about how it works. That was underscored by a German study of migraines: it found that inserting needles at various acupuncture points in the body relieved pain just as effectively as inserting them in the points that are supposed to affect migraines. Both therapies cut the number of episodes more than 50% over a 12-week period; a control group that did not receive either treatment continued to suffer as before.
AIDS This was the year that the World Health Organization (WHO), under the banner of its innovative "3 by 5" campaign, was supposed to put 3 million AIDS patients in the developing world on life-saving antiretroviral drugs. With only a month left in 2005, the WHO is expected to fall short of its goal, but most experts still consider the plan a success. Fourteen of the countries hardest hit by the epidemic now provide therapies to at least half their patients who need them. Such aggressive treatment programs are critical as the AIDS virus continues to spread and mutate. The WHO and U.N. last week reported that an estimated 40 million people are HIV-positive, including a record 1 million in the U.S. In New York City, doctors were alarmed to discover a particularly powerful strain of HIV in a sexually active gay man. Resistant to all but one of the classes of anti-AIDS drugs, that fast-working virus appears to lead to full-blown AIDS in a matter of months.
AIR BAGS The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's boast that inflatable air bags have saved nearly 14,000 lives since 1998, when they were required in all new cars, was challenged by a University of Georgia statistician. By analyzing a random sample of all accidents (rather than just those in which a death occurred), she found that air bags were actually associated with a slightly higher chance of death in an accident. Some of that discrepancy may be attributed to the greater risk of air-bag injuries to children who ride--against all advice--in the front seat of a car.
ALZHEIMER'S One of the most tragic features of this neurological disease is the way patients slip away, slowly losing memory and other brain functions over a span of years. Now there is evidence that the long goodbye of Alzheimer's may begin even earlier than doctors suspected. A Swedish analysis of nearly 50 studies of the condition found that patients who go on to develop Alzheimer's show telltale signs--lapses in memory, reasoning, problem-solving ability, verbal fluency and attention skills--years before the disease is diagnosed. Such symptoms could serve as warning signals, say experts, but doctors need better screening tools to distinguish those changes from the decline in brain function that occurs naturally with age. Meanwhile, University of Southern California researchers found that inflammation caused by lost or loose teeth, and the resulting infection, can quadruple the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Treating those inflammatory episodes could help stave off the disease.