Infection Of Cat Parasite Toxoplasma Gondii Linked To Increased Risk Of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder

First Posted: Jun 07, 2015 01:39 PM EDT

Statistics show that roughly 30 percent of U.S. households own cats. Of course, pet owners love this adorable creature very much, but could a common parasite linked to the animal also pose the danger of mental illness?

Researchers at the Stanley Medical Research Institute found that the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, also known as the most common parasite in developed countries, is linked to such mental illnesses as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In fact, 60 million people or 20 percent of the population in the United States alone are thought to have it. The most common source of infection is contact with infected cat feces.

Though most who come in contact with T. gondii will never produce any symptoms, those with weaker immune systems can experience severe health issues following infection, including flu-like symptoms and in more rare cases, even blindness.

For the most recent study, published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, researchers compared past research that showed a connection between owning a cat during childhood and developing a serious mental disorder.

A previous study published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia also found that persons infected with T. gondii were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Fortunately, Toxoplasmosis, the resulting infection from the T. gondii parasite, is usually benign. And for those infected who experience symptoms, medications can sometimes help treat it and suppress the infection.

Furthermore, researchers stressed that the findings do not suggest that cat ownership or parasitical infections will result in schizophrenia.

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