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Parasite Present in Cat Feces Linked to Suicide Attempts in Women

Update Date: Jul 03, 2012 05:56 AM EDT

A latest study has linked women cat owners to being more suicidal. The study says that a certain kind of parasite, Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) present in the cat faeces could cause mental health problems in women and lead them to attempt suicide.

About one-third of the world is infected with the parasite present in under-cooked meat or unwashed vegetables apart from cat faeces, say researchers. T.gondii hides in the brain and muscles of the body and does not show symptoms.

The infection caused by the parasite is called toxoplasmosis, and is linked to mental disorders such as schizophrenia, and changes in behavior.

"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," senior author of the study, Doctor Teodor Postolache, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the United States was quoted as saying by Independent.i.e.

"We plan to continue our research into this possible connection."

The study that involved more than 45,000 women in Denmark is the largest study so far that has linked toxoplasmosis and suicide attempts. It is also, perhaps the first to document suicide attempts that occurred after discovery of the infection.

"T. gondii infection is a major public health problem around the world, and many people don't realize they're infected. Dr Postolache is a leading expert on suicide neuroimmunology. Suicide is a critically important mental health issue. About one million people commit suicide and another 10 million attempt suicide worldwide each year. We hope that this type of research will one day help us find ways to save many lives that now end prematurely in suicide," said Doctor Albert Reece, vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland, according to the report. .

The parasite thrives in the intestines of cats, and is spread through oocysts passed in their faeces.

Oocysts, if ingested, can infect any warm-blooded animal, spreading the parasite to the brain and muscles, hiding from the immune system within the "cysts" inside the cells, reports Independent.i.e.. The possible ways in which humans generally get infected is while changing the litter box of the cat, consuming unwashed vegetables, contaminated water, or eating under-cooked meat that is already infected with the cysts..

Babies can contract the infection directly from the mother in the womb.

The scientists relied on data from Danish health registries to determine the number of women who later attempted suicide.

The study found that the risk of women attempting suicide is directly proportional to the increasing levels of the T. gondii antibodies in them.

Dr Postolache, however noted that the study has certain limitations, such as the inability to determine the cause behind the suicidal behavior in women.

"T. gondii infection is likely not a random event and it is conceivable that the results could be alternatively explained by people with psychiatric disturbances having a higher risk of becoming T. gondii infected prior to contact with the health system," he added.

The findings were published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry

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