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AIDS RAGES ON The annual international AIDS conference opened in Barcelona last week under a cloud of somber news. The epidemic, which experts thought had begun to level off, seems to be accelerating. According to the latest estimates from the U.N., AIDS will claim 68 million lives by 2020--roughly the number of people killed in all the wars of the 20th century combined. In the hardest-hit countries, the public health systems have utterly failed. In the first survey of how widely anti-HIV treatments are used, researchers found that less than 4% of those infected have access to appropriate medications. Drug therapies are not the only answer, however. Another report suggests that low-tech measures such as distributing condoms and improving the status of women could prevent 48 million infections by 2010.

BUG SPRAY When it comes to fighting off mosquitoes, it doesn't pay to be meek. DEET, the pesticide found in commercial bug sprays, is far more effective at preventing mosquito bites — for up to five hours — than are milder alternatives, including citronella and Skin-So-Soft, which fend off the critters for only 20 minutes. While early animal studies hinted at possible brain damage from overexposure, an independent study reports that DEET products, used sparingly for brief periods, are relatively safe.

Sources: UNAIDS; New England Journal of Medicine