Is Your Cat Driving You Mad?
A parasite found in cats is tampering with people's brains and driving them to suicide, research suggests.
have shown that men and women infected with a bug that breeds in cats'
stomachs and worms into people's brains are seven times more likely to
attempt suicide than others.
say that Toxoplasma gondii may tinker with the delicate chemistry of
the brain and screening people for it could help identify those at risk
of taking their own lives.
A parasite found in cats is tampering with people's brains and driving them to suicide, research suggests
The parasite, which is carried by many
Britons, has a complicated life cycle but can only breed inside cats.
The microscopic eggs are passed on in cat faeces, spreading the
are advised not to empty cat litter trays because the parasite can be
fatal to unborn babies. The bug can also be picked up from contaminated
Around a third of people
worldwide carry the parasite, with most catching it by consuming
undercooked meat, especially lamb, pork and venison or by ingesting
water, soil or anything contaminated by cat faeces.
looked for evidence of the infection in the blood of 84 men and women,
more than half of whom had tried to commit suicide.
The Toxoplasma gondii parasite is only able to reproduce in a cat's gut
Lena Brundin, of Michigan State University, said: 'We found that if you
are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to
that the parasite, which has previously been linked to brain cancer,
schizophrenia and personality disorders, may inflame the brain or tamper
with its chemistry, including levels of the 'feel-good' chemical
Those behind the
latest study stressed that not everyone who is infected will be
suicidal. However, they said if the link is confirmed, screening for the
bug could make it easier to determine which mental health patients are
at the greatest risk of attempting suicide.
Knowing more about the biology that precedes suicide could also lead to the creation of better anti-depressants.
Brundin said: 'It means we can develop new treatments to prevent
suicides and patients can feel hope that maybe we can help them.'
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