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Study: Your Cat Can Kill You

Tuesday, 03 July 2012 10:07 AM

A common parasite found in cat litter boxes can cause changes in the brain of women and make them more likely to commit suicide, according to a new Danish study of more than 45,000 women. The Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite is spread through contact with cat feces and can also be found in undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables.
Scientists have known for years that the babies of women infected with the parasite were at an increased risk of still birth or brain damage, but the study is the first to indicate that their own brains changed after being infected.
The study found that women infected with T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those who were not infected, and the risk seemed to rise with increasing levels of the T. gondii antibodies. Previous mental illness did not appear to significantly influence the findings. The risk for violent suicide attempts was even higher.
“We can’t say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection,” says Teodor T. Postolache, M.D., senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Infection with T. gondii is common — about one-third of the world's population has been exposed. It hides in the brains and muscles, but since there are often no symptoms, people don't know they've been infected. The infection, which is called toxoplasmosis, has been linked to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and changes in behavior.
The T. gondii parasite thrives in the intestines of cats, and it is spread through oocysts passed in their feces. All warm-blooded animals can become infected through ingestion of these oocysts. The organism spreads to their brain and muscles, hiding from the immune system within “cysts” inside cells.
Humans can become infected by changing their infected cats’ litter boxes, eating unwashed vegetables, drinking water from a contaminated source, or more commonly, by eating undercooked or raw meat that is infested with cysts. Not washing kitchen knives after preparing raw meat before handling another food item can also lead to infection. Pregnant women can pass the parasite directly to their fetuses and are therefore advised not to change cat litter boxes to avoid possible infection.

© HealthDay

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A common parasite found in cat litter boxes--Toxoplasma gondii--can cause changes in the brain of women and make them more likely to commit suicide, according to a new Danish study.
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 10:07 AM
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