Crazy cat people likely would be that way without their cats, research implies. Or, rather, don’t blame eccentric behavior on a parasite your cat can transmit to you.
A new study suggests little connection exists between Toxoplasma gondii and increased risk of mental health problems, Quartz reports. Parasite T. gondii is transmitted through feces and can live in many mammals (humans, for instance) but can only produce eggs within cats. Infection leads to the disease Toxoplasmosis.
The research, published in PLoS ONE, studied more than 800 New Zealand men and women over 38 years. Around 30 percent tested positive for antibodies that fight off T. gondii upon the trial’s completion; that means they most likely had the parasite. Researchers assessed the patients’ mental health at a dozen intervals over the course of the patients’ lives, and found that T. gondii infection didn’t significantly correspond to cognitive or behavioral problems.
It does affect some behavior. Mice with T. gondii infection lose their fear of cats, theoretically so they’ll be more vulnerable to being eaten by felines and their blood parasites can reproduce inside the cats.
Stretch the theory a little further and you might wonder whether Toxoplasmosis affects people the same way, too. It became almost popular of late to link a roster of mental health conditions — from schizophrenia to manic depression to risk-taking behavior — to Toxoplasmosis.
Turns out that infection might not have any symptoms. Most people who harbor the parasite never know they have it. Also, people with healthy immune systems will probably fight the infection when it first hits.
Detrimental side effects do occur in rare cases. Birth defects, for example, have appeared in infants whose mothers contracted the virus while pregnant with them. But T. gondii transmission by way of cats is far less common than via eating contaminated meat. While pregnant women should take all precautions and avoid scooping cat litter, the risk of becoming infected is quite slight.
So slight, you really have only yourself to blame for your nuttiness.