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Health Highlights: Dec. 1, 2002

China Finally Faces AIDS Crisis Do Prisoners Get Preferred Medical Treatment? Experience Couldn't Save Doomed Hikers Disney Scrubs Cruise for Ship Scrubbing Norway Plans Unprecedented Smoking Ban Medical Marijuana Users Are Older Men

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

China Finally Faces AIDS Crisis

Only six months after ridiculing a United Nations report saying that China was on the verge of an "explosive" AIDS epidemic, the world's most populous nation is now taking the prediction seriously and confronting the problem.

The U.N. predicted that 10 million Chinese would be infected with the AIDS virus by the end of the decade, according to the BBC. At the time, the official word from Peking was that the report was unreliable and biased, the Associated Press adds. But to mark World AIDS Day on Sunday, the government is taking the report more seriously after having ignored the crisis for years.

The official China Daily published those figures for the first time Saturday and called it "the sternest warning ever given," the AP reports. And on Sunday, at an official event at the Great Hall of the People, the government urged more people to spread the word about prevention, according to the BBC, which added that an HIV-infected woman was married at an officially sanctioned ceremony in an attempt to conquer prejudice against people with the disease.


Do Prisoners Get Preferred Medical Treatment?

A convicted murder gets a quadruple bypass operation and then a cancer operation, while a robber undergoes a $1 million heart transplant. Meanwhile, ailing law-abiding citizens are left to fend on their own.

CBS News says the treatment convicted felons are getting behind bars has angered many who can't afford these procedures. The report will be broadcast Sunday night on the program 60 Minutes.

According to the report, California prison officials say their hands were tied in the transplant case -- he sued and won. The courts have ruled that since prisoners are in the custody of the state, the state must provide medical care.

"Whats the message here to the public?" Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez is quoted as saying. "You had two robbery convictions, youre in jail, you get sick, youre going to the top of the [transplant waiting] line."

But ethicist Dr. Warren Schneiderman tells 60 Minutes that it's not simple. To deny prisoners medical care, he said, could lead to "a slippery slope" that, taken to its extreme, would deny care to people with a parking ticket.


Experience Couldn't Save Doomed Hikers

The death of two men in an avalanche at the foot of Mt. Washington underscores the fact that changes in the weather can take even the most experienced climbers by surprise.

The two men, Scott Sandberg and Thomas Burke, had years of experience between them. Yet they were caught in an avalanche while trying to climb the bowl-shaped Tuckerman Ravine, according to the Boston Globe. Five other hikers escaped death.

Sandberg was described as an avid outdoorsman. "He did a lot of training, and he wouldn't exceed his capacity," the Globe quotes a friend, John Horst, as saying. "He understood the risks, which is part of why it shocks me."

But an expert on Mt. Washington says that knowledge can take hikers only so far. "The fact that you're experienced does not protect you from trouble," Nicholas Howe told the Globe. "Accidents are exactly that. They happen when you're not expecting them."


Disney Scrubs Cruise for Ship Scrubbing

A Disney Cruise ship returned to port Saturday after reports that another 26 passengers have come down with a Norwalk-like virus, and the company says it has cancelled its next journey to give the vessel another cleaning.

A total of 187 people have fallen ill on the cruise ship Magic, according to Orlando TV station WFTV. The ship, which was carrying 2,400 customers and 1,000 crew members, will undergo a week-long cleaning. The ship had been cleaned just last week after a similar outbreak.

"These ships are maintaining the highest level of sanitation in the world," Dave Forney, who heads the vessel protection program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC's Today show this morning. However, he said, it's difficult to prevent illness "when it's brought aboard."

Meanwhile, the Holland America cruise ship Amsterdam, which also has had problems with the Norwalk-like virus, sets sail Sunday after a thorough scrubbing. The virus has sickened 489 people over four voyages, and has been docked since Nov. 21.

The cruise will be closely watched for a resurgence of the virus, but "that's not going to happen," Holland America spokeswoman Rose Abello told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Norwalk-like viruses can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.


Norway Plans Unprecedented Smoking Ban

Norway is on its way to becoming the first country in the world to ban smoking inside all public places.

The plan, expected to pass by the country's Parliament next year and take effect in 2004, would force smokers to light up only outdoors or inside their own homes, according to the BBC.

The country is already one of the toughest on smokers. The BBC says there are already restrictions in public buildings and offices, and it has one of the world's highest taxes on cigarettes. But it had allowed smoking in designated areas of bars and restaurants.

The legislation comes amid pressure from restaurant workers' unions, who say that passive smoking is making their members sick. But the hospitality industry opposes the measure, saying that it will make life hard for smokers who will be forced outside to smoke in below-zero temperatures.


Medical Marijuana Users Are Older Men

Those who are most likely to use marijuana for medicinal purposes are men of the Baby Boom generation, according to a new survey by the General Accounting Office.

A survey of eight states that have relaxed drug laws that allow pot to be used for medical reasons also finds that there has been little impact on crime-fighting, according to the Associated Press.

The AP, quoting the GAO report, said that 70 percent of the registered medicinal marijuana users in Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska were males 40 and older. Most were taking the drug to relieve pain and muscle spasms.

The report said that crime laws have not been harmed, although there have been complications. For instance, some have been arrested for distributing marijuana for money, they've been able to secure marijuana registry cards after they were arrested.

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