An Oct. 6 Findings item described long gamma ray bursts as the largest explosions in the solar system. They are the largest explosions in the universe. (Published 10/8/2005)

WHO Calls Millions

Of Deaths Preventable

Nearly 400 million people will die of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic ailments over the next 10 years, but many of those deaths could be prevented by lifestyle changes and inexpensive medication, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

The financial burden from an increasing death toll from such noncommunicable diseases will be enormous, costing countries such as China and India billions of dollars, WHO said in a report.

The WHO report calls attention to the increasing threat from noncommunicable diseases, which account for three out of five deaths worldwide and can often be prevented in part by more healthful diets and giving up smoking.

Until recent years, these chronic conditions were overshadowed by infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, though they cause far more deaths.

WHO estimated that 39 million deaths from chronic diseases in the next 10 years could be prevented, including 28 million in developing countries.

Gamma Ray Bursts

Tied to Neutron Stars

Astronomers using a combination of ground- and space-based telescopes have identified the source of short gamma ray bursts, explosions that flash through the heavens for fractions of a second with a brightness greater than that of a billion suns.

In a series of papers today in the journal Nature, more than 130 researchers from all over the world describe observations obtained after two NASA satellites detected bursts on May 9 and July 9.

Pennsylvania State University astronomer Derek Fox, lead author of one report, said at a NASA news conference that the data showed that the explosions resulted from either a collision between two neutron stars or the collision of a neutron star with a black hole.

Neutron stars are the collapsed cores of large stars and pack the mass of the sun into an area the size of Washington. The short bursts, lasting two seconds or less, had proved too fleeting to be detected until the Swift satellite located the May 9 burst and observed its fading X-ray afterglow.

Long gamma ray bursts, by contrast, last up to 30 seconds and are caused by the collapse and sudden explosion of massive stars. These bursts are about 1,000 times as powerful as the short bursts, making them the biggest explosions in the solar system.

Global Warming Cited

For Tainted Oysters

Rising ocean temperatures may have spurred growth of a bacterium that sickened at least 62 passengers on a cruise ship in Alaska in July 2004, an example of how global warming can harm humans, researchers said.

The passengers ate raw oysters harvested in Prince William Sound at a point about 622 miles beyond the northernmost area where tainted oysters had been found before, scientists reported in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The water where the oysters were gathered was warmer than in the past, at least 59 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the bacterium to thrive.

Alaskan health officials wrote that rising temperatures "contributed to one of the largest known outbreaks" of gastrointestinal illness caused by the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium.

"We're just thanking our lucky stars that we didn't have another outbreak this year," said Joseph B. McLaughlin, the lead author of the article on the oyster-related outbreak and a medical epidemiologist at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports