The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Cat Parasite Linked to Mental Illness, Schizophrenia

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cat Parasite Linked to Mental Illness, Schizophrenia

Everyone loves cuddling with kittens. But there can be a little-known danger lurking behind that furry little face and that innocent-sounding meow: a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii).

T. gondii is the most common parasite in developed nations, according to Schizophrenia Bulletin. The cat-carried parasite can infect any warm-blooded species, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 60 million people in the U.S. may have it.

Most people never suffer any symptoms at all. But in those with weaker immune systems, infection with T. gondii can cause an illness called toxoplasmosis, which can result in miscarriages, fetal development disorders, weeks of flu-like illness, blindness and even death. It has also been associated with mental disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Now two more studies explore the mental health issues in greater detail.

E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dr. Robert H. Yolken of Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been studying the link between infection with T. gondii and schizophrenia for close to three decades.

Their most recent study, published in Schizophrenia Research, along with researcher Wendy Simmons, compared two previous studies that found a link between childhood cat ownership and the development of schizophrenia later in life with an unpublished survey on mental health from 1982, 10 years before any data on cat ownership and mental illness had been published. Results of the analysis indicated that cat exposure in childhood may be a risk factor for developing mental disorders.

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