According to a study published in the journal Schizophrenia Research parasites carried by cats is linked with various conditions including mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
A research team of experts has discovered that the Toxoplasma gondii (t. gondii) parasite which is carried by cats, particularly outdoor or stray ones, can besides infecting people also increase the risk of developing mental disorders such as schizophrenia later on.
The parasite t.gondii is found in cat feces. It can infect any warm-blooded being, including humans. It is estimated that around 60 million people in the US have it although most individuals do not show symptoms of the infection. However people who have a weaker immune system could suffer from toxoplasmosis which leads to flu-like symptoms, blindness, miscarriage and fetal developmental disorders.
Moreover, besides toxoplasmosis the parasite is as well linked to mental illnesses. According to the study people who have a cat during childhood have increased chances of developing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder later in life.
The life cycle of the T.gondii parasite can be completed only in felids such as cats because they are the definitive hosts. Nevertheless it can still infect intermediate hosts. In animals it can infect muscles and brain tissues. Various neurologic symptoms were observed in the case of monkey, sheep, cattle, pigs and rabbits which were infected with T.gondii. Some of the symptoms included tremors, head-shaking, in-coordination and seizure.
In the case of humans the virus can be acquired through contact with cat feces or by eating meat which is undercooked. In order to prevent T.gondii infection experts advise minimizing child exposure to cats and contact with rare meat.
In this research the scientists compared two previous studies which looked at the connection between cat ownership and schizophrenia. They analyzed mental health data from 1982. The findings show that cat exposure in childhood has an important influence on the mental condition later in life.
However this does not mean that cat owners have to get scared and throw their cats away. The results do not explicitly show that the parasite causes schizophrenia, it just hypothesizes that there might be a link between owing a cat and mental illnesses development. The scientists involved in the study say that further research is needed. They noted:
“We urge our colleagues to try and replicate these findings to clarify whether childhood cat ownership is truly a risk factor for later schizophrenia.”
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