New research finds women infected with Toxoplasma gondii have an increased risk to attempt suicide than non-infected women. Why these two are connected is still unclear.
The study, led by senior study author, Dr. Teodor Postolache, analyzed about 45,788 women in Denmark between 1992 and 1995. Postolache and colleagues found that women infected with T. gondii had one-and-a-half times higher risk of attempting suicide when compared with women did not have the parasite.
Once ingested, T. gondii can plant itself inside the brain and muscle tissues, and once inside cysts they are untouchable from the host’s immune system. Studies looking at this parasite have connected with mental health and brain problems, like schizophrenia and brain cancer. But scientists still are not sure if the parasite is a direct reason for the development of these health problems or if it is more of a side effect. Someone with the mental disorder schizophrenia, for example, might struggle to keep up with their hygiene, meaning the mental disorder could increase the risk for infection and not the other way around.
T. gondii is more commonly known as the “cat parasite” because it prefers to infect cats, but can be found in any mammal. Around one-third of the population carries the parasite but most will never even know they are infected.
In typical healthy adults, if symptoms do occur, they symptoms are going to be flu-like, with a sore throat, fatigue, fever, and issues with vision. People who have weakened immune systems, could be more seriously effected by the infection.
This is also why pregnant women should avoid litter boxes and cat feces. Pregnant women who come across the parasite could pass it along to the fetus, resulting in certain birth defects.
If you are a cat owner, I wouldn’t start eyeing your cat suspiciously just yet. If you have an indoor cat, you are probably safe. In cats, infection probably occurs when they have eaten an infected bird or rodent, ate raw meat (or undercooked), or was in contact with soil or cat feces that was infected.
Also, cats are not the only way humans can pick up the parasite. In fact, the main reason humans are infected is from eating raw meat or meat not cooked properly. Another way this parasite makes contact with humans is gardening without gloves in an area of soil that is contaminated or eating vegetables from contaminated soil that have not been thoroughly washed.
So if you are trying to eat healthier make sure you thoroughly rinse your fruits and vegetables as well as cooking all meats properly. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has Toxoplasmosis third on its list when it comes to deaths from food-borne illness.
So hopefully you and Mr.Whiskers can still be friends.