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American Scene: New AIDS-like disease in Asia not contagious

- - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Researchers have identified a mysterious new disease that has left scores of people in Asia and some in the United States with AIDS-like symptoms even though they are not infected with HIV.

The patients' immune systems become damaged, leaving them unable to fend off germs as healthy people do. What triggers this isn't known, but the disease does not seem to be contagious.

This is another kind of acquired immune deficiency that is not inherited and occurs in adults, but doesn't spread the way AIDS does through a virus, said Dr. Sarah Browne, a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

She helped lead the study with researchers in Thailand and Taiwan, where most of the cases have been found since 2004. Their report is in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is absolutely fascinating. I've seen probably at least three patients in the last 10 years or so" who might have had this, said Dr. Dennis Maki, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

CALIFORNIA

Curiosity starts first trip along Martian surface

PASADENA — Curiosity took its first test drive around the gravel-strewn Martian terrain Wednesday, preparation for the ultimate road trip to find out if the Red Planet's environment could have supported life.

The six-wheel NASA rover did not stray far from the spot where it landed more than two weeks ago. It rolled forward about 15 feet, rotated to a right angle and reversed a short distance, leaving tracks in the ancient soil.

Mission managers were ecstatic that the maiden trek of the $2.5 billion mission was glitch-free.

"It couldn't be more important," said project manager Peter Theisinger at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven't accomplished anything. … It's a big moment."

The short spin came a day after Curiosity successfully wiggled its wheels to test its steering capabilities.

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator Aug. 5 to explore whether the environment once supported microbial life. The touchdown site has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of the author of "The Martian Chronicles," the late Ray Bradbury, who would have turned 92 on Wednesday.

GEORGIA

2 men sentenced to 5 years each in militia plot

GAINESVILLE — Two Georgia men were sentenced Wednesday to five years each in prison for trying to get an unregistered explosive and an illegal gun silencer in what prosecutors describe as a plot to attack government targets.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story sentenced Frederick Thomas, 73, and Dan Roberts, 68, to the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement they reached with the government with credit for time served since their arrests.

The two also were ordered to serve 100 hours of community service during three years of supervised release following their imprisonment. Judge Story did not impose a fine, saying he wanted any money the men were able to earn to go toward supporting their families.

After their attorneys and a federal prosecutor made their arguments during a sentencing hearing, both men, dressed in orange jail suits and orange rubber shoes, shuffled to the podium with chained ankles to address the court.

ALABAMA

Court won't stop removal of front yard grave

BIRMINGHAM — An Alabama appeals court has refused to block an order requiring a homeowner to remove the body of his late wife from a grave in his front yard, but the legal wrangling continues.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals denied the request by homeowner James Davis. He buried his wife Patsy outside their home in Stevenson after her death in 2009, and the city is trying to make him move the grave.

The 73-year-old homeowner said he merely sought to honor his wife's request to remain on their lot in the northeastern Alabama city, where they lived for decades in a log house he built. She is buried in a vault and casket beside the front porch; the gray marble tombstone and flowers are visible from the street.

Mr. Davis claims the grave is a family burial plot and is legal under state law. The city contends the grave constitutes an illegal cemetery and has filed suit trying to make him move it.

NEW JERSEY

Mom who once lost custody decapitates 2-year-old son

CAMDEN — A woman who previously admitted blacking out from drug use decapitated her 2-year-old son and put the boy's head in her freezer before killing herself, just five months after having regained custody of the boy from the state's child welfare agency, authorities said Wednesday.

Chevonne Thomas killed her son and called 911 just after midnight Tuesday, then fatally stabbed herself while officers were outside, police said.

During the 911 call, she first accused her boyfriend of stabbing Zahree Thomas, but then said repeatedly "I did it, I did it," said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor.

Ms. Thomas, 33, had lost custody of Zahree in November 2010 after allegedly leaving the boy unattended in a car and admitting to police she had smoked marijuana laced with PCP and blacked out in a nearby park, authorities said.

She regained custody of the boy in April, Mr. Laughlin said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports