The August Almanac

Demographics


Illustration by John Segal August is the busiest time of year at Yosemite National Park: some 700,000 visitors are expected this month. The number of "human-bear incidents" -- aggressive acts by bears toward human beings or property -- also generally peaks in August. Last year bears in Yosemite caused more than $630,000 in property damage and broke into more than 1,300 cars -- some 350 during August alone. Several factors contribute to the problem. From the 1920s through the 1960s park officials fed bears restaurant scraps, unwittingly encouraging an appetite for human food. In addition, the fact that only black bears, which are less dangerous than grizzlies, remain in Yosemite may have led the public to be overly complacent. Although until recent decades human-bear incidents were dealt with only reactively -- offending bears were relocated or killed -- efforts now also include prevention, and focus more on the behavior of human beings than on that of bears. Park funds are increasingly used to build bear-proof food lockers and to get visitors to take precautions.

Expiring Patent


Illustration by John Segal No. 4,346,772. Power assisting device for a bicycle. "A power assisting assembly for said vehicle comprising ... a motor; a driving wheel rotatably driven by said motor, said driving wheel being longitudinally spaced rearwardly of [the bicycle's back] wheel ... [and] connected to a linkage assembly ... connected to [the bicycle's] frame."

Government

August 21: According to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, today is the deadline for Congress to pass legislation to protect individual electronic medical records. If Congress fails to do so, the Health and Human Services Department has until next February to issue regulations to this end. Only a handful of states have passed comprehensive laws guaranteeing the confidentiality of hospital and medical records. Concern over the issue has grown as records and lab results have been increasingly computerized, and thus are potentially subject to wider access. Another of the act's requirements, which directs the federal government to issue every citizen a "health identifier" -- a code that would allow the person' s entire medical history to be accessed electronically -- has been put on hold owing to privacy concerns. The identifiers could permit better medical care in emergencies; however, many fear that they could be abused by, for example, employers, who might obtain the medical and psychological histories of potential employees and discriminate on the basis of them.

Health & Safety

New regulations to protect health-care workers against needle-stick injuries and exposure to blood-borne pathogens have now gone into effect in California. The rules require the use, whenever possible, of "needleless" intravenous systems -- devices that do not use needles after the initial puncture -- or of devices that blunt sharp ends after use or that encapsulate fluids. This is the first law in the country to mandate safer needle systems. About a half-million accidental needle-sticks are reported each year, and it is estimated that 1,000 health-care workers contract HIV or hepatitis B or C as a result. At least 250 types of safer needle systems have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Most hospitals do not use them, however, presumably because they are more expensive than conventional needles and because of long-standing contracts between hospitals and needle manufacturers. Plans are under way in more than 15 other states to develop similar needle-safety regulations.

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