For cat enthusiasts, the world is divided into two categories: those who love cats, and those who are crazy. A new study published this month in the Schizophrenia Research Journal, however, shows that those two camps might actually be one in the same.
The study focused on a pesky little parasite that infects cats known as Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii.
T. gondii is not a newly discovered parasite.
Researchers have known about its existence for many years, but it was thought to be relatively harmless to healthy adults...until now.
T. gondii infects the brains of mice.
It manipulates their sensory organs and causes them to be attracted to urine. Mice have some of the strongest smell receptors in the animal kingdom, and they'll normally give cats a wide berth when they smell their urine. But T. gondii makes the mice attracted to the smell, which then makes them easy targets for hungry cats.
Once the cat eats a mouse that's been infected with this bacteria, the parasite breeds in the cat's stomach and its eggs are expelled in its feces.
T. gondii eggs are notoriously hearty and can survive for quite a while in harsh conditions. This is how most humans come into contact with the parasite. It's estimated that at least 60 million Americans are infected by T. gondii right now...and it's all thanks to their feline friends.
For those who are pregnant or who have compromised immune systems, a T. gondii infection can cause deadly toxoplasmosis.
While most scientists wrote off T. gondii as being harmless to humans years ago, new research has toppled that conclusion.
A recent study found a relationship between cat ownership and the development of severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia later in life. A second study determined that those infected with T. gondii are twice as likely as non-infected individuals to develop schizophrenia.
They also found that common antipsychotic drugs reduced the symptoms associated with T. gondii in rats.
(via IFL Science)
Despite these terrifying conclusions, researchers stopped short of definitively saying that T. gondii causes schizophrenia. Instead, they say that the results prove an association, rather than a direct cause. I'm still not sure if I'll ever be able to look at cats the same way again.