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Cat Parasite may be Linked to Suicide Risk

Jul 16th, 2012

Cat parasiteCat parasites may drive women to commit suicide. This is according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite commonly found in cats or other warm-blooded animals. It is excreted through a cat’s body waste. T. gondii is known to pose serious health risks to a fetus such as brain damage or even death. This is why pregnant women are advised against cleaning a cat’s litter box. It may also be contracted through undercooked meat that have parasite eggs or unwashed vegetables.

A person infected with T. gondii may develop mental illness because they thrive in the human brain, particularly in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These regions play a big role in the processing of emotions, reactions, decision-making and behavior.

The study analyzed data from over 45 thousand, Danish women who gave birth between May 15, 1992, and January 15, 1995. Their babies were tested for T. gondii antibodies. The result was compared to the rate of suicide among women.

Women infected with T. gondii were one and a half  times more likely to commit suicide than those who are uninfected.

“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,” says Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and author of the study.

The study also revealed that those who were more infected and developed a higher level of antibodies, were more prone to attempt suicide.

Researchers explored the idea that other factors may have come into play that led the respondents to make an attempt on suicide. Certain factors like mental health and financial status may have increased their risk for suicide.

However the study could not directly point to T. gondii as the cause of suicide attempts. They can only link the parasite to brain function.

Researchers say there is need for further studies about T. gondii and its effect on people. Does it directly cause people to want to kill themselves? Will all who get infected want to commit suicide? Is this risk limited to women?

Postolache said, “If we can identify a causal relationship, we may be able to predict those at increased risk for attempting suicide and find ways to intervene and offer treatment.”

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