Women With Cats Likelier To Commit Suicide

By Amir Khan on July 3, 2012 7:51 AM EDT

Cat
Women who have cats are at a higher risk for suicide that those without cats, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Women who have cats are at a higher risk for suicide that those without cats, according to a new study, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry on Monday. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii lives in cat feces, undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables and women infected with it are much more likely to commit suicide, researchers said.

"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," Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, study author and psychiatrist and suicide neuroimmunology expert at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told ABC News.

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Researchers looked at more than 46,000 Danish women over the course of a decade and found that women infected with T. gondii were 81% more likely to have a violent suicide attempt than non-infected women and 53% more likely to receive treatment for self-directed violence. Researchers stressed, however, that the risk was very low.

More than 60 million men and women are infected with the parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very few show symptoms. If symptoms are present, it's typically flu-like symptoms.

The parasite is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, who can transmit the parasite to their child. Women are advised to avoid cat litter while pregnant.

"The parasite does actually alter the brain of its host," Stanford University study co-author Patrick House told ABC News last year. "The fact that a parasite can get into an organism, target its brain, stay there without killing the host and alter the circuitry of the brain -- we've seen this is insects and fungi, but it's the first time we've seen it in a mammalian host."

The study only showed a correlation, not causation, between the two, so researchers said more work is needed to better understand the link.

"There is a good possibility that there is some causal link here, but we can't say that with certainty from the research so far," Postolache told WebMD.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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