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Health Highlights: March 24, 2002

Painkiller's Possible Link to Meningitis Explored Children of Divorce Do Better With Joint Custody Anti-Bioterrorism Program Trains International Scientists in U.S. Rubbing In Lotion May Help Rub Out Menopause Symptoms Birth Control Pill Can Increase Breast Cancer Risk Nursing Shortage Prompts Appeal to Males, Despite Stigma

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

Painkiller's Possible Link to Meningitis Explored

A popular painkiller used to treat arthritis and other acute pain has been linked to five cases of a nonbacterial form of meningitis, the Associated Press reports.

Approximately 52 million prescriptions for the drug, Vioxx, have been written in the United States since June 1999. The possible meningitis side effect, though rare, is serious, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

No one has died in any of the cases, federal health officials say.

Joint Custody Better for Kids of Divorce

More than two decades after the movie "Kramer vs. Kramer" dramatized the traumas of a hostile divorce, a Maryland researcher has found that children raised in joint-custody settings do better than those in sole custody and almost as well as those from two-parent homes, reports HealthDay.

Overall, children in joint arrangements tended to be better adjusted than those in sole-custody situations, with less anxiety and depression, fewer behavioral problems, and they fared better in school, the new study found.

"It's very clear that the joint-custody children show somewhat better adjustment than the sole-custody children," says Robert Bauserman, a behavioral scientist at the Maryland Department of Health in Baltimore who conducted the study.

"That doesn't mean that sole-custody children are maladjusted. But if you look at the overall pattern of results, kids [in joint-custody situations] seem to be doing better in a large variety of areas," from self-esteem to school performance, he adds.

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Anti-Bioterrorism Program to Train International Scientists in U.S.

America's fight against bioterrorism is expanding to foreign nations, under a new program that will train visiting scientists to respond to outbreaks in their own countries, the Associated Press reports.

Twenty-eight foreign scientists will train with U.S. scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories, which have been the hub of bioterrorism-prevention activity and research in this country.

The program is being overseen by the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which organizes partnerships outside of government, and is being funded by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co.

The drug company is contributing $2 million for the program over the course of four years.

Lilly was expected to announce the program today at the opening of the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

Officials say similar efforts to train scientists from developing countries to respond to bioterrorism are being planned by the World Health Organization.

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Rubbing In Lotion May Help Rub Out Menopause Symptoms

When it comes to menopause, many women say, "Don't rub it in." But researchers say rubbing in an experimental estrogen lotion may be just the trick in alleviating the symptoms of menopause.

In research presented Friday at the Society for Gynecologic Investigation in Los Angeles, scientists said a preliminary study of 200 women showed an 85 percent reduction of symptoms such as hot flashes during a 16-week trial of the drug Estrasorb.

And about half the women on the drug, made by Novavax Inc., reported experiencing no hot flashes during a seven-day period after 10 weeks of treatment, according to wire reports.

If the drug is approved by U.S. health officials, it would mark the first time an estrogen-replacement therapy would be available in lotion form.

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Birth Control Pill Can Increase Breast Cancer Risk

For women who use oral contraceptives comes a new word of caution: Using the Pill increases your risk of breast cancer, and the longer you use it, the higher your risk of disease, reports HealthDay.

The finding, which echoes the much-debated historical link between the Pill and breast cancer, was reported yesterday, on the final day of the week-long Third Annual European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

The study on Pill use was a collaboration among Norwegian, Swedish and French doctors. They analyzed data from the large Norwegian-Swedish "Women's Lifestyle and Health Study," which began in 1991 and tracked the lifestyles, including Pill use, of women between the ages of 30 and 49.

The researchers followed the women for almost 10 years, during which time 1,008 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed. For those women who reported any Pill use, the risk of breast cancer was about 26 percent higher than for those who didn't use oral contraceptives.

But for women who used the Pill throughout the 10-year study, the risk was 58 percent higher than for non-Pill users, the doctors reported. The group at highest risk appeared to be those still using the Pill after age 45. Their risk was almost 1.5 times that of non-Pill users.

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Nursing Shortage Prompts Appeal to Males

Despite advances in gender equality in many professions, the notion of a male nurse is still often snickered at. Remember the countless jokes about actor Ben Stiller's male nurse character in last year's hit movie "Meet the Parents"?

But with the nursing field badly in need of qualified recruits, a new campaign is out to change that perception by depicting male nurses in ads and featuring the profiles of male nurses on a Web site.

The campaign, spearheaded by New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, includes recruitment videos, posters and brochures that will be provided to 25,000 high schools and 1,500 nursing schools and organizations, with the goal of attracting both genders to the profession, the Associated Press reports.

Men make up only about 6 percent of the nation's 2.7 million nurses, and only about one-in-10 males considers nursing as a career choice.

Meanwhile, about 126,000 full-time nursing positions are unfilled at hospitals in the United States, and experts say the number is expected to triple by the year 2020.

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