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Health Highlights: Dec. 2, 2002

Virus-Plagued Cruise Ship Returns; Disinfected Vessel Sets Sail Report Urges Integrated Treatment for Addicts With Mental Illness Mountain Biking May be a Male Fertility Risk Pediatricians Urge Flu Shots for Toddlers Europeans Adopt Smoking Ad Ban China Finally Confronts AIDS Crisis

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

Virus-Plagued Cruise Ship Returns; Disinfected Vessel Sets Sail

Nearly 200 passengers aboard a Carnival cruise ship ended a three-day voyage yesterday sickened by a gastrointestinal virus similar to the one that has plagued more than 1,000 people on other cruise liners in the past few months.

The sickened passengers will not be reimbursed because most of them took ill late Sunday, just hours before the cruise ship docked in Miami, the Associated Press reports.

It hasn't been determined whether the passengers were stricken with a Norwalk-like virus, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Similar viruses felled passengers on Holland America Line's Amsterdam and Disney Cruise Line's Magic, forcing the cancellation of cruises so the ships could be disinfected.

On Sunday, following a 10-day scrubdown, the Amsterdam returned to sea carrying 1,261 passengers. "We are confident that we have broken the cycle," Rose Abello, a Holland America spokeswoman, told the AP. "Can we guarantee that nobody will ever get sick? Absolutely not."

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Report Urges Integrated Treatment for Addicts With Mental Illness

Many drug and alcohol abusers have mental disorders. But because their addictions and mental illness are not treated in tandem, only a few recover from either, says a report submitted today to the U.S. Congress.

Charles Curie, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said about one-third of the substance abusers in the United States also battle with mental illness, and mentally unbalanced adults are three times more likely than others to abuse drugs or alcohol."

A recent study of the Pennsylvania state prison system found that 85 percent of prisoners had addictions, and half of them had psychological disorders. "That's typical of the prison systems nationally," Curie told USA Today. "And we know if these inmates recover from the disorders, they're unlikely to repeat crimes."

According to psychiatrist Kenneth Minkoff, a clinical professor at Harvard University, almost all treatment programs focus on either one or the other problem, so integrated programs would require a massive overhaul of the current system.

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Mountain Biking May be a Male Fertility Risk

Competitive mountain bikers risk injuring their scrotums and may have more difficulty fathering children, according to a new study.

Researchers at University Hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, conducted ultrasounds on 40 men who cycled for more than two hours a day and who rode more than 3,000 miles a year. They found that nearly 90 percent of the mountain bikers displayed abnormalities in their scrotums, compared with 26 percent of non-cyclists. The men had less than half the sperm count, less sperm movement, and more cysts than the non-mountain bikers, United Press International reports.

Dr. Ferdinand Frauscher, head of the department of uroradiology at University Hospital, said it was unclear why mountain bikers had decreased sperm motility, but the researchers "believe that repeated mechanical trauma to the testicles results in some degree of vascular damage, and may thereby cause a reduction in sperm mobility."

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Pediatricians Urge Flu Shots for Toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging, for the first time, that flu shots be administered to all toddlers aged 6 to 23 months, according to an AAP statement issued today. Previously, the group urged the shots only for ill children in that age group.

"It recently has become clear that healthy children younger than 24 months are at as great a risk of influenza-associated hospitalization as are previously recognized high-risk groups," the AAP release says.

High-risk children and teens include those with asthma; cystic fibrosis and other chronic pulmonary or cardiac diseases; diabetes; and HIV, the physicians say.

Children under 6 months of age should not be immunized, the AAP says.

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Europeans Adopt Smoking Ad Ban

The European Union has passed a new law banning tobacco advertising on radio, in print, and on the Internet, reports BBC News Online. The new rule complements an existing law that forbids such ads on television.

The restrictions, which take effect in 2005, were approved by health ministers representing 13 countries of the 15-member EU. The provisions also include a ban on distribution of free tobacco products as a promotion, and a ban on tobacco companies sponsoring major sporting events.

Advertising vehicles that continue to remain legal include posters, billboards, movies, and cigarette advertising on clothing, the BBC says.

The German minister, in voting "no" on the proposal, said the new law went too far. The British minister said he voted against the bill because it didn't go far enough.

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China Finally Confronts 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 Bejing 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.

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