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News Briefs

Research Offers Hope Of Reducing AIDS Transmission


A low concentration of the AIDS virus in the bloodstream greatly decreases the chance that an infected man or woman will transmit the disease to a heterosexual partner, according to two studies from Africa presented at a scientific meeting here.

That observation raises the possibility that an imperfect AIDS vaccine may yet be useful in the region where 70 percent of the world’s cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection occur. Specifically, it suggests that a vaccine that fails to block initial infection -- but does manage to lower a person’s “viral load” -- may reduce that person’s ability to pass the virus on to someone else.

Nearly 70 percent of the 34 million people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, where heterosexual intercourse is the dominant mode of virus transmission. The two studies, presented at the Seventh Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, looked at the experience of African couples in which one person was infected with HIV and the other was not.

In a study from the rural Rakai district of Uganda, researchers followed 415 “HIV-discordant” couples for 30 months. In slightly more than half, the man was the partner infected. In 90 of the couples (about 22 percent), the uninfected partner ultimately acquired the infection. Male-to-female transmission was as likely as female-to-male.

The big determinant of transmission was viral load. People with more than 50,000 viruses per milliliter of blood had 10 times the chance of transmitting their infection as people with fewer than 3,500 viruses per milliliter. In the 50 couples in which one partner had a viral load less than 1,500, there were no transmissions at all.

Illinois Governor Declares Moratorium on Executions


Advocates of a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty Monday hailed an announcement by Gov. George H. Ryan, R, that he will block executions in Illinois until capital punishment procedures are thoroughly investigated, and they urged other governors to follow suit to prevent irreversible miscarriages of justice.

Ryan said Monday that he will stay scheduled executions until a special commission he appoints conducts an inquiry into the cases of 13 death-row inmates who have been cleared of murder charges since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977. In the same period, 12 condemned prisoners have been put to death.

Ryan told a news conference here that he was deeply troubled by the exonerations, some of which came close to when the inmates were to die by lethal injection.

“I now favor a moratorium because I have grave concerns about our state’s shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row,” Ryan said. He said he could no longer support a system that “has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of an innocent life.”

Illinois becomes the first of 38 death penalty states state to impose a moratorium on capital punishment while it studies the state-sanctioned killing.

House GOP Pushes Early Action On ’Marriage Penalty’ Tax Relief


House Republicans began moving Monday towards early action on a plan to use $182 billion of future surpluses in the coming decade to provide tax relief to about 25 million married couples.

The proposal, unveiled by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Tex., would boost the standard deduction and expand the lowest tax brackets to provide the average married couple with $471 of annual tax relief, according to the Republicans. So-called “marriage penalty” relief enjoys broad-based support in both parties, and the Republicans included a marriage provision in a massive tax bill that was passed by Congress last summer but vetoed by President Clinton. Last week, Clinton embraced a far less costly version than favored by Republicans.

But Archer challenged Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other Democrats to help pass a freestanding marriage penalty bill now and consider other provisions later in the year. He scheduled committee action on the Republican bill on Wednesday and has pledged final House action on the measure by Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

“This Congress won’t rest until we fix the marriage tax penalty,” Archer told reporters Monday.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr., R-Del., hailed Archer’s proposal and promised to move a marriage penalty relief measure through the Senate this year. Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), the ranking Ways and Means Democrat, agreed on the need for action this year, but criticized Archer for attempting to ram his bill through without consulting the administration or congressional Democrats.