A recent study found that a little-known parasite known to induce fear-averse suicidal behavior in rodents has been found to have a similarly dangerous effect on some cat owners.
The study — conducted on a sample pool of over 45,000 Danish women between 1992 and 2006 — found that female human carriers of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, were 1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than those from whom the parasite was absent.
T. gondii can infect the brain chemistry of thousands of other warm-blooded animals, including humans. For cats, the parasite lives in their intestines, having been acquired through the consumption of an infected rodent that had lost its aversion to cats due to the parasite. Humans can acquire T. gondii through the consumption of undercooked pork and other meats, through vegetables, and through cleaning out a cat’s litter box.
The Daily Caller previously reported on the psychological affects linked to the parasite, including aggression, schizophrenia and increased neuroticism.
Teodor Postolache, a University of Maryland psychiatrist and senior author of the study, however, told NPR that people should not give their cats away. NPR first reported the story on the new findings on Tuesday, citing the study’s findings that the “absolute risk” of suicide was “very small,” and “fewer than 1,000 women” out of the sample group “attempted any sort of self-directed violence.”
The zombie-apocalypse scare at the beginning of June caused many to speculate that the synthetic drug popularly known as “bath salts” was the cause of cannibalistic attacks that were occurring across the country. The Daily Caller, in a piece about the T. gondii, explored whether the parasite might somehow be linked to the zombie-apocalypse.
The Daily Caller’s inquires to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) on if the parasite — which the CDC has also warned about— could somehow be linked to the attacks were met with silence. The CDC had previously denied the existence of “a virus or condition that could reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).”
Carl Zimmer, a science writer for Discover Magazine, went about attempting to debunk the notion that the T. gondii’s link to mental illness and heightened aggression in a human host could incite cannibalistic behavior towards other people.
Zimmer called humans a dead end for the parasite, and said that cannibalism towards a potential host would prove counterproductive to the survival of the parasite. As an unamused parasitologist, he rushed to the defense of his “favorite parasite,” calling The Daily Caller’s reporting “baffling” and insulting to the 2 million people who suffer from schizophrenia.
When asked for comment about the results of the recent study, Zimmer wrote to The Daily Caller over Twitter that, “99% of women w/out [without] Toxoplasma never attempt suicide.”
“98.7% of women with Toxo never attempt it,” Zimmer continued. “A cause for concern, not panic.”