The Toxoplasma Cat Parasite & Mental-Illness. Research On A Weird Road:
The search for the roots of disease is taking some weird turns, as we’ve found out.
Some of the biggest mysteries we have in that area seem to involve our minds.
What makes them tick incorrectly and is every problem just a chemical imbalance?
And while your cat may be far crazier than you think,
A team of Danish researchers is finding out just how much they might be making you crazy, too…
Beware Of Outdoorsy Cats:
So everyone loves cats,
But when they’re young & outdoorsy, they can sometimes bring along with them an unwanted friend:
This disease affects about 350,000 people in the UK, 60 Million in the US, and upwards of 2 Billion people worldwide.
Along with it comes another complication: Mental Illness.
And the short answer is: The researchers found a very high correlation between people that had cats and those suffering from Schizophrenia.
Read on to find out more…
What does Toxoplasmosis Do?:
The disease that comes from the T.Gondii parasite inhibits Tryptophan in your brain, which ultimately affects Serotonin levels.
Because of this, it also has a loose but unconfirmed association with Anxiety and Depression.
It causes the brain to produce high amounts of the same metabolites as people diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
That neurotransmitter imbalance then can affect behavior, along with other factors.
In rodents it encourages risky-behavior, removes the fear of cats which then gets them eaten by cats, propagating the microbe all over again.
In humans it heightens Anxiety, can result in lower IQ,
And it can make affected Men introverted & suspicious, and affected Women extroverted, image-conscious and connection-seeking.
How Many People Are Affected?:
Earlier we said the numbers were about:
1) 350,000 in the UK,
2) 60 Million in the US
However, Americans still have the lowest infection-rate worldwide at 10-20%
France is at 55% infected.
Africa in-general is at 95% infected.
The rest adds up to a total of about 2 Billion people worldwide who have Toxo.
So What Did The Recent Study Say About Toxoplasma & Mental-Illness?:
As an examination of the Danish Blood Donor Survey, researchers looked at over 85,000 subjects.
This is the largest study ever to look for infection of this type of parasite & disease.
They searched for specific antibodies related to Toxoplasma and Schizophrenia.
Even in tiny Denmark, 25% of the studied group was infected, 5% higher than the outside number for the US.
When they found the anti-body markers, it turned out people infected with the parasite had a 47% chance of also having Schizophrenia.
The correlation was even higher than 47% when researchers controlled for people who had not yet been diagnosed with the disorder.
How Do People Get This Disease?:
The main way humans get Toxo is contact with the litterbox of a young outdoor cat in its first 3 months of going outside.
It can also occur due to contact with microbes from uncooked meat, as Toxo can make its way into food-source animals also.
The parasitic infection is usually harmless, and remains dormant.
Although it is one of the few microbes that can cross the blood-brain barrier, it is usually fought-off like a short bout of the Flu.
That being said, there may still be some risks.
How Serious Are The Risks?:
Having the T.Gondii parasite in your body according to this work is correlated with an increased risk of Schizophrenia of 50%.
There is also an association with Anxiety, Depression, unreasonable risk-taking-behavior,
And worst of all, majoring in Business.
Other correlations are more speculative still, like those for Epilepsy, Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s.
Even though most people’s immune-systems fight it off like a cold,
It is particularly-risky for people with weakened immune-systems,
And most-seriously, it’s very dangerous for pregnant women and could cause miscarriages,
Especially in early-stage pregnancies.
What Can I Do To Avoid It?:
The CDC has a great list here.
And it basically cooks down to:
1) Don’t drink untreated water
2) Cook food throughly
3) Wash fruit & vegetables well
4) Keep cats indoors and off kitchen & dining counters
5) Routinely clean the surfaces of kitchen & dining counters
6) Be very careful around kitty-litter, especially if you have an outdoor cat.
7) Only have men or non-pregnant females near it or changing it.
8) Wash your hands regularly
9) Wear gloves & wash hands after gardening, just in-case the neighborhood has some al-fresco cats
10) No, you do not have to throw your cats away!
Most people will not be materially-affected.
Even in this study, only 0.18% of subjects (or 151 out of 85,000+) were actually diagnosed with Schizophrenia, so it’s still very rare.
And there are plenty of ways you can protect yourself and your family.
Despite the worrying stat about a developed-country like France having a 55% infection rate, the rest of the developed-world is still lower.
And indoor cats are usually healthier and live longer, so don’t feel bad about keeping them inside.
Even lead author Kristoffer Burgdorf says more study is needed,
He also notes that despite the current work, there is only Correlation and not Causation established between mental-disorders and pet-ownership.
So unless you’re already a Crazy Cat Lady, follow the CDC’s safety-protocols and don’t worry about catching Schizophrenia or other mental-illness from your cats.
Photo Credits: “cute cat playing with toy”, by Tookapic
Source: Lundbeck Foundation
More Coverage: CDC Toxo Prevention
◻ Brain.Beh.Immu. – Large-scale study of Toxoplasma and Cytomegalovirus shows an association between infection and serious psychiatric disorders
◻ Adv.Clin.Exp.Med – Relationship between toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia: A review.