Health Buzz: Contagious Happiness and Other Health News

A deadly problem with adulterated heparin; making sense of a gene test for athleticism


Happiness May Spread in Social Networks

Happiness may be contagious, suggests a new study published online today in British Medical Journal. Researchers found that a person's happiness can spread within three degrees of separation. "Our own personal happiness spreads beyond people we're directly connected to," study co-author James Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of CaliforniaSan Diego, told HealthDay. The study looked at 4,739 children of original participants in the Framingham Heart Study and followed their friendships with others from 1983 to 2003. They found that a person's happiness is mostly likely to impact how happy the people closest to him are, including spouses, relatives, friends, and neighbors. But the happiness effect may also spread outward to people the original person has never met. The study is one in a series looking at how contagious loneliness, smoking, and other behaviors are.

In November, U.S. News's Nancy Shute explained why loneliness is bad for your health. In February, Deborah Kotz explored happiness in middle age.

Treating and Preventing the Heparin Problem

Working closely with the Food and Drug Administration, local and state public health officials, and a team of researchers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that certain lots of the intravenous blood thinner heparin were adulterated with a heparin-like compound, oversulfated chondroitin sulfate. The adulterated product made its way into at least 21 dialysis facilities and some heart clinics in at least 11 states. Once it was identified, there was an extensive recall by producer Baxter Healthcare, and the deadly problem stopped, Bernadine Healy reports. But only after numerous acute drug reactions and close to 100—or perhaps more—deaths.

The medical saga outlined how effective this nation can be at finding and treating a major illness. But is it possible to prevent this type of problem from occurring again? The raw heparin product passed through so many hands that it has been virtually impossible to determine when, how, and why the contaminant found its way into the heparin batches that were sold to Baxter, which formulated it into the finished drug.

In January, U.S. News listed four ways to avoid dangerous drug errors and, following the death of actor Heath Ledger from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, offered medication safety tips. Last year, Nancy Shute reported that shoddy and fraudulent pharmaceutical products are a growing threat.

Can a Gene Test Tell You Your Toddler's Sport?

In the overheated world of youth sports, it's come to this: a gene test that claims to predict whether a child is more likely to become an endurance athlete like Lance Armstrong or a sprinter like Dara Torres, Katherine Hobson writes. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, some parents are paying $149 for the test in an attempt to get their kids matched with the sports at which they're most likely to succeed. Putting aside the question of whether the gene test actually predicts performance—experts quoted in the story say innate athletic ability is a lot more complicated than the variation in one gene—it's up for debate whether specializing in one sport as a kid is a good idea.

Previously, U.S. News explained how crazed parents and coaches affect youth sports. In August, Hobson reported on a promising way to prevent ACL injuries.

—January W. Payne

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