June 8, 2017

BE VERY AFRAID: How Worried Should Cat Owners Be About Toxoplasmosis?

Related: Toxoplasmosis: “Crazy Cat Lady” Just Took On A Whole New Meaning.

Even in individuals without an immune disorder, it seems the parasite may cause slower reaction time in people, as well. The parasite increases the likelihood that the infected person will be in a car accident, just like it makes a rodent more likely to be killed by a predator. There are also studies linking the disease to schizophrenia and other mood disorders, due to an increase in the neurotransmitter, dopamine, that takes place in the brain following infection as well. Because high dopamine levels and schizophrenia have a close association, there is speculation that people infected with Toxoplasmosis could be up to 25% more at risk for the symptoms of schizophrenia. Further, this storm of neurotransmitter production can also increase the risk of suicide.

So, the “crazy cat lady” stereotype might have some basis in medicine. These changes to the brain are nothing to ignore, and we certainly need even more research to understand the long-term implications of T. Gondii on our mental health. After all, this is a very common infection that a huge portion of the world’s population carries around; about 60 million people in the U.S. alone.

Plus: How your cat is making you crazy.

Compared with uninfected people of the same sex, infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. And when it came to downing the mystery fluid, reports Flegr, “the infected males were much more hesitant than uninfected men. They wanted to know why they had to do it. Would it harm them?” In contrast, the infected women were the most trusting of all subjects. “They just did what they were told,” he says.