Do women who live with cats run a greater risk of suicide? A study at the University of Maryland has raised that intriguing possibility.
Researchers writing in the Archives of General Psychiatry report finding women infected with a brain parasite called T. gondii that can be spread through contact with cat feces. It can also be spread by eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables.
Amazingly, the researchers who studied 45,000 female subjects in Denmark conclude that about a-third of the world's population is infected with the parasite. If you have it you probably don't know. It can hide for years and not produce any physical symptoms.
Mental illness link
The infection is linked to mental illness, odd changes in behavior and suicide attempts. The study found that women who had the parasite were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide than those who did not have it.
Dr. Teodor Postolache, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, is the study's senior author.
"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," Postolache said.
"We plan to continue our research into this possible connection."
The parasite lives in cats' intestines and humans come in contact usually while cleaning a litter box. But cats aren't the only way the parasite spreads.
T. gondii can contaminate meat or vegetables. Heat kills it so if the food is thoroughly cooked, there is no danger.