A study published in the Archives of General Psychology found that women infected with Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), which is spread through contact with cat feces, may face an increased suicide risk.
The study involved 45,000 women from Denmark and found that those who were infected with the parasite, called toxoplasmosis, were 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide.
“We can’t say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves,” said Teodor Postolache of the University of Maryland medical school, senior author of the study.
“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.”
Previous studies have shown links between toxoplasmosis and mental illness, and it’s the reason pregnant women are advised to avoid cleaning litter boxes, but the parasite isn’t as uncommon as we might want it to be and may already be lurking undetected in one-third of the world’s population. According to the CDC, few people who are infected ever show symptoms because healthy immune systems usually keep the parasite from causing illness.
Postolache also notes that we’re more likely to be infected by eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables.
Susan Logan, an editor at Cat Fancy, is not impressed with the way the study’s being reported and believes it may do more harm than good.
The truth about cats and toxoplasmosis is that felines do shed in their feces the T. gondii parasite’s eggs, but only for a few days out of the cat’s entire lifetime. So the chances of contracting the infection from cat feces are extremely slim. And, it takes at least 24 hours for the eggs to become infectious after the cat defecates, so if you clean your litterbox every day, you reduce even more your chances of contracting it from the cat’s feces. To become infected from your kitty’s litterbox, your hands would have to come into contact with the feces and then you would have to handle food without washing your hands. That sounds disgusting and anyone with common sense would wash their hands after scooping a litterbox, especially if they’re going to handle food immediately afterward.
She and others also point out the many benefits that having cats, or any pet, can have on our health and well-being from lowering blood pressure to boosting our self esteem that far outweigh the risks.
According to Postolache, while reason for suicidal behavior was unclear, he didn’t rule out the reverse causality that people with suicidal behavior were more likely to be infected in the first place and is advising people not to go giving their beloved cats away because of the study.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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