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Health Highlights: Nov. 30, 2002

Disney Scrubs Cruise for Ship Scrubbing Norway Plans Unprecedented Smoking Ban Medical Marijuana Users Are Older Men Powell Asks Diplomatic Corps to Relay AIDS Message Renewed Warnings for Mixed Party Drugs Turkey Is Not That Good for You: Report

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

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.

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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.

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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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Powell Asks Diplomatic Corps to Relay AIDS Message

In a U.S. State Department ceremony to mark World Aids Day Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell will ask the entire diplomatic corps to relay a message to their governments that their leadership is a vital part of the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Jack Chow, the U.S. ambassador on the AIDS issue, said when national political leaders address the problem publicly and commit to a course of action, they can make a difference, the Associated Press reports.

Chow cites the example of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who supervised the development of a center for AIDS research studies. Museveni "made a tangible, concrete difference at the grass roots level," said Chow.

Cheaper treatment costs for AIDS makes an entreaty to world governments to assume leadership roles in the struggle more feasible. When antiretrovirals first came on the market, a year's supply cost a patient between $10,000 and $12,000, said Chow. Some of them now cost as little as a few hundred dollars a year.

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Renewed Warnings for Mixed Party Drugs

Poly-drug use -- taking a different drugs at the same time -- has been around for some time, but now a new mix of Ecstasy and Viagra has health officials renewing their warnings about the dangers of drugs and the added risks when they are combined.

Sextasy, the street name for the latest mix, is being packaged and sold by dealers in Australia and New Zealand. While narcotic officers in the United States say they haven't yet discovered any Viagra during their Ecstasy investigations, Sgt. Eric Barden, supervisor of the Seattle Police Department's narcotics section, said they haven't been looking for it either, The Baltimore Sun reports.

But some doctors and other health officials say they know from their patients that the two drugs are being taken together, especially at private parties and among the gay community in Seattle's bathhouses. The reason behind the mix is while Ecstasy can lead to fewer inhibitions, it can also prevent or obstruct erections in men.

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Turkey Is Not That Good for You: Report

Now that you're facing all that leftover turkey, you might not want to hear this latest health item.

CBS reports that browned, crispy foods, like that Thanksgiving turkey, are loaded with proteins called AGEs, which interact with sugar in the body to cause hardening of the arteries. They are particularly dangerous to Type II diabetics who can't regulate blood sugar.

"AGEs are deposited everywhere over time in the kidneys, in the vessels of the eyes, and they have been implicated in all of these major complications from diabetes," Mt. Sinai School of Medicine endocrinologist Dr. Helen Vlassara told CBS.

In recent studies, scientists were surprised to discover that the quantity of AGEs, which the body produces, increases drastically depending on the way food is cooked.

"You have a roasted turkey, you have the slices, it will have approximately three times as many AGEs as . . . steamed turkey," said Mt. Sinai dietician Terry Goldberg.

In trials done at Mount Sinai in New York, diabetics were given roasted and baked foods, or those cooked at low temperatures or without being browned. After several weeks, patients on the low AGE diet showed improvement.

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