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Cat Parasite Increases Suicide Risk?

Cat Parasite Increases Suicide Risk?

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.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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151 comments

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11:53PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

thank you!

2:52PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Very scary.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Rather ridiculous as anyone following proper hygiene practices when changing the litter pan will not get the disease.

Makes more sense that SAD caused the depression and the suicides especially in Nordic countries where the climate can bring depression in the winter.

Cats had been cared for by women for generations and healthy hygiene practices keep people perfectly safe.

11:25AM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

I found this article to be a bit ridiculous and will just lead to misunderstanding and unnecessary panic and give cat haters another reason to misalign them.

And to Berny I find that HUMANS also carry many diseases so I try to avoid THEM.

And to Suzanne O...........great comment!

3:59PM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

Shared on FB.

11:20AM PDT on Jul 9, 2012

Yup, nothing like an article's dramatic headline to create more out of an issue than is actually there.

First off, Suzanne O., your comment is great! I didn't realize, either, that cats could commit suicide?? Who knew!

Next, Patritica L., you have definitely missed the salient points in the article. Your comment: "More contact with animals........will increase the risk for infection with toxo" is so out of context with the actual toxopasmosis transmission facts, as listed by Susan Logan and the senior author of the study, Postolache. Really....stick to the facts.

11:08PM PDT on Jul 8, 2012

There was nothing in the report about other risk factors including the weight of the women or the time spent alone or in social contact. Frankly someone with a lot of cats probably has the cats to compensate for a diminished social life/contact. Programs that increase social contact have had a dramatic impact on suicide risk in the past. The advent of life on line, increasing obesity rates, and increasing rates of social isolation have all increased depression, poor mental health and the accompanying concomitant risk of suicides.

More contact with animals can sometimes compensate for social isolation, but will increase the risk for infection with toxo.

Correlation never begets causation, and further research into mechanism would be needed to establish a definitive connection between suicide and toxo.

4:03AM PDT on Jul 8, 2012

thanks for sharing

3:38PM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Do people really clean their cat's litterbox with their hands and then not wash their hands?? This sort of study just scares people into giving up their cats. It's ridiculous! Use common sense and you won't have any problems.

7:56AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Does this mean that all the "crazy cat ladies" will now commit suicide en masse?

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