Is your cat making you crazy? According to Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr, cats can be the source of serious medical conditions, mental health issues and tragic incidents in humans, including:
- Car crashes
Say what — he must be a kook, right?! Well, Flegr’s theories really aren’t as crazy as they sound. Cat feces contain a single-celled parasite known as Toxoplasma. Exposure to the parasite has long been known to cause serious health problems, including severe brain damage and death, in fetuses and people with weak immune systems. But for healthy people? Well, though Toxoplasma takes up permanent residence in your brain cells, the adverse health affects are usually mild.
Flegr, however, doesn’t believe that Toxoplasma is so innocuous in healthy brains. He believes that the parasite could be, “tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents.”
This might all sound a little “fringe,” to put it delicately, but Flegr’s work has gained some respect from notable neuroscientists. It’s also been backed up by some pretty incredible research. One such study found that the parasite, “can turn a rat’s strong innate aversion to cats into an attraction, luring it into the jaws of its No. 1 predator.”
Flegr has found some fascinating gender disparities in his research on humans with the parasite — men were more likely to be introverted, sloppy dressers and oblivious; women, on the other hand, were more likely to be outgoing, image-conscious and trusting. Both genders tested were also 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a car accident than people without the parasite. Toxoplasma, too, can trigger schizophrenia in people that were already genetically susceptible.
Still sound crazy? Well, perhaps it’s fair to compare Toxoplasma’s mind-control power to rabies, which, if left untreated, can seriously alter a person’s personality.
Next page: Tips for protecting yourself from Toxoplasma, and should you be concerned about your cat?
As scary as this all sounds, though, it’s important to keep in mind a few facts about Toxoplasma in house cats:
- Toxoplasma is only carried by outdoor cats – indoor cats are not at issue here!
- The parasite is only shed by outdoor cats for 3 weeks of their entire lives. It’s generally when the cat is young and new to hunting.
- During that time in your cat’s life, you can thwart Toxoplasma by keeping a clean house and thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables.
- Most people with Toxoplasma in their bodies will not suffer any ill effects
- Moreover, if a person does experience personality changes, they will most likely be too subtle to notice.
In the end, perhaps Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky says it best, “this mostly falls into the ‘Get a load of this, can you believe what nature has come up with?’ category.”
What do you think about Flegr’s work? Are you concerned about Toxoplasma? Do you think it’s just junk science? Leave you opinions in the comments below!