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Health Highlights: Dec. 30, 2002

Moderate Drinking Holds Its Own as a Health Benefit Cruise Ship Cleanliness Strictly Monitored 1st Reportedly Cloned Baby Arriving in U.S. Today Drug Testing Seems to Deter Use, Study Finds NYC Mayor Signs Anti-Smoking Legislation

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

Moderate Drinking Holds Its Own as a Health Benefit

On the eve of a holiday associated with drinking -- sometimes too much so -- the concept of a glass a day keeping the doctor away is holding up.

The New York Times reports that re-examinations of study after study concerning the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption confirm that it helps.

"A drink or two a day of wine, beer or liquor is, experts say, often the single best nonprescription way to prevent heart attacks -- better than a low-fat diet or weight loss, better even than vigorous exercise. Moderate drinking can help prevent strokes, amputated limbs and dementia," the newspaper says. Most important, The Times reports, are the large studies done during the past 30 years:

  • "In a study of more than 80,000 American women, those who drank moderately had only half the heart attack risk of those who did not drink at all, even if they were slim, did not smoke and exercised daily. Moderate drinking was about as good for the heart as an hour of exercise a day. Not drinking at all was as bad for the heart as morbid obesity.
  • "In thousands of middle-aged Danish men with high cholesterol, moderate drinkers had 50 percent less risk of developing heart disease from blocked arteries than abstainers.
  • "Among more than 100,000 California adults, moderate drinking after age 40 was associated with reduced death rates during every subsequent decade of life in some people by as much as 30 percent."

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Cruise Ship Cleanliness Strictly Monitored

With more and more reports of passengers becoming ill on cruise ships, you might wonder just how clean the U.S. government requires domestic and foreign cruise vessels to be.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the government reached a voluntary agreement with cruise lines some three decades ago to report and monitor any outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness among passengers.

The cruise line owners pay a fee to finance the program, coordinated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twice annually, CDC staffers arrive unannounced to perform random inspections on each of 41 criteria, from food handling practices to the cleanliness of the vessel's swimming pools and spas.

Ships must score higher than 86. During inspections before their recent disease outbreaks, Holland America's Amsterdam scored 96 (in June), Disney's Magic 99 (June), Carnival's Fascination 93 (July), and P&O Cruises' Oceana 95 (November), the newspaper reports.

So, why are the outbreaks still occurring? "You're never going to get rid of them," Dr. Frederick Southwick, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Florida College of Medicine, tells the Times. "You've got a large number of people in a small environment. Just one ill person on board can infect many other passengers," he says.

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1st Reportedly Cloned Baby Arriving in U.S. Today

The world's first reportedly cloned baby, nicknamed "Eve," is coming home to the United States today, according to the company that has claimed credit for the feat.

The baby is flying into the country with her family, says the chief executive of Clonaid, the cloning company affiliated with a religious sect that believes space aliens launched life on Earth, according to an Associated Press report.

"The baby is going home and once at home it is possible for an independent expert to go there and once a sample is taken we will see," Brigitte Boisselier said yesterday, referring to DNA testing needed to prove whether the child is really a clone.

Boisselier previously said the child's mother is American but has offered no further details. On Sunday, neither she nor Clonaid spokeswoman Nadine Gary would say where in the United States the mother is from, where the child was born or what U.S. city they would be arriving in.

Many scientists, however, are suspicious of Clonaid's claim. University of Wisconsin bioethicist Alta Charo called Clonaid's announcement "an irresponsible example of medical grandstanding," CNN reported.

CNN reported that White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said President Bush "believes like most Americans that human cloning is deeply concerning, and he strongly supports legislation banning human cloning."

The National Academy of Sciences recommended a ban on human cloning back in January, according to CNN.

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Drug Testing Seems to Deter Use

Athletes at an Oregon high school who were subject to random drug tests were much less likely to use drugs than athletes at another state high school who weren't tested, according to a new American study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Randomly tested students at Wahtonka High School in The Dalles were almost four times less likely to use drugs than their non-tested counterparts at Warrenton High School near Astoria, reports the Associated Press.

Of 135 athletes at Wahtonka, 5.3 percent conceded using illicit drugs, versus 19.4 percent of the 141 athletes at Warrenton. The survey responses were confidential.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public school students could be required to submit to random drug testing if they joined any competitive after-school activity.

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NYC Mayor Signs Smoking Ban

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg all but snuffed out smoking in the Big Apple's public workplaces today. Calling it an "historic event" in the city's history, the mayor signed legislation that bans smoking in almost all restaurants and bars.

The Smoke Free Air Act of 2002 extends legislation passed seven years ago that banned smoking in restaurants, except for those with fewer than 35 seats. The older act did not, for the most part, regulate smoking in bars. The new legislation, which takes effect in 90 days, extends the ban to 1,400 more city establishments, and only exempts a handful of cigar bars and other small, privately-owned facilities.

Countering claims by bar owners that the ban would hurt their businesses, Bloomberg said in his remarks, "This law does not take away anyone's rights. This law allows working people to earn a living in a safe workplace so they can provide for their families."

"No one should have to choose between their health and their work," said the mayor, himself a former smoker.

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