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Author John Naish's book of health hazards ups our fear factor

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Feelin' OK?

We hope so, because when it comes to your health, there's a lot out there that can get you - and not just that pesky avian flu, either.

While you've been freaking out about anything to do with feathers, did you know too much sun as a child might cause skin cancer but too little could set off multiple sclerosis? Money problems are a real disease, with financial phobia afflicting at least 9 million people in Britain. They might look sexy, but G- strings and tight bras are wreaking havoc on women's health. Also, karaoke can kill.

Author John Naish has been kind enough to uncork copious health hazards in his book "Hypochondria Can Kill: A Disease for Every Occasion, An Illness for Every Symptom" (Plume, $14), a compilation of all the outlandish and outrageous studies he's come across in his 15 years as a health journalist in London.

"It wasn't really a conscious collection. I just filled a desk drawer full of weird medical studies," he said. "And when I came across goalkeeper's finger, I knew I had to put it in a book."

(For the record, goalkeeper's finger is a phenomenon among short, married amateur soccer goalkeepers who lose their ring fingers trying to attach the nets to the goal posts by jumping up with the netting. The wedding rings get hooked instead, and voila - no finger. Pros are spared because they don't set up their nets.)

"What a brilliant thing to worry about," Naish said. "If you have nothing else to worry about."

That's our problem. Naish said the Western world's obsession with health is most likely the result of a combination of progress, prosperity and lots and lots of time.

"The healthier we become, the more time we have to worry about being ill," he said. "People used to ignore a lot of the threats before the Second World War. If you got a strep infection that was it, you're dead. But when penicillin came along and people could be cured, we worried more. After all, you don't want to be complacent."

Never. Which is why Naish isn't above worrying, either.

"I've never really had a plain headache; I've always had a possible brain tumor," he said. "But I'm cursed because I'm a relatively healthy person. But I think I have a normal dose of hypochondria."

(Like the title of his book says, it really can kill. According to clinical studies, the "nocebo effect" is the power of the notion that if a person is convinced something will go wrong, it will. "In one example of nocebo, researchers found that women who believe they are prone to heart disease are nearly four times as likely to die from it as women with similar risk factors who don't hold such fatalistic views," Naish wrote.)

Other nifty little diseases that might do you in?

Infidelity is a passport to the grave. A London doctor claims that a number of sudden deaths during sex happen to people who are having affairs. Especially older folks.

And if your wife is a troll, you'll probably outlive her. A Yale University study said men with ugly wives live an average of 12 years longer because they're not worried about their wives being unfaithful.

Disco might be dead, but it left a mark on one teen diagnosed with "Disco Felons." In 1979, John Hopkins Hospital reported a 17- year-old with an infected abscess on her middle finger. The cause: constantly snapping her fingers in time to music.

All of which makes the flu pandemic seem downright pedestrian. At least that's what Naish thinks.

"Do you remember SARS?" he asked. "I know people were killed by it, but it was nothing compared to crossing the road. I have spoken to experts and this virus has a lot of things to do before it becomes a pandemic."

Naish is as annoyed with all the "lifestyle" illnesses that keep popping up.

"Celebrity-worship syndrome, social phobia, things like that," he said. "People like celebs. People are shy. Deal with it."

But there's one thing Naish fears.

"Ice skating," he said. "I've never been ice skating. I'm afraid I'll fall and someone will skate over my fingers and they'll fall off."

(C) 2005 Boston Herald. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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