An interesting tidbit of information that recently caught this writer’s attention is the possibility that we are susceptible to psychiatric disorders stemming from parasites. That is not to say that all or even the majority of those diagnosed contracted a parasite but according to several studies it is a probability that a few may have. Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is one of the more studied parasites that has already been linked to intellectual deficiencies, prenatal brain damage, retinal damage, abnormal head size, deafness, cerebral palsy and seizures. However, many doctors, scientist and researchers believe that it can also cause schizophrenia.
T. gondii is a one-celled, protozoan parasite that infects most warm-blooded animals including humans. All members of the cat family are currently the only known definitive host and they can shed the “eggs” for up to two weeks. Birds and mice can be secondary carriers of the parasite, however. Many humans who carry the parasite suffer no symptoms or ill effect due the body’s immune system keeping the parasite at bay. However, for a select few, the parasite can lead to toxoplasmosis. (Toxoplasma infection, 2013, January 10).
Several studies, including one by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, have shown that mothers who became infected with T. gondii and essentially toxoplasmosis while they were pregnant had children with higher rates of schizophrenia in adulthood versus children of uninfected mothers. However, the most notable find discovered by Dr. Torrey was a correlation between those who were diagnosed with schizophrenia and were infected with T. gondii as children or teens. Essentially, what he identified was a link between increased incidences of schizophrenia in locations that had parks or community play areas that also had sandboxes. His explaination was that on average, 4-24 cats had been shown to use the sandboxes as a litterbox, the T. gondii eggs were shed in the feces and the children’s hands were infected while playing. (Washington, H., 2015, November 31).
To help support his theory, Torrey looks to history. He points out that up until about the year 1808 schizophrenia was relatively rare. However, he notes that in 1808 the prevalence of schizophrenia increased dramatically. At the same time, he also brings notice to the fact that cat ownership became progressively more popular in the United States and other areas around the world. He believes this shared surge of occurrence is much more than coincidence and that indicated that additional research should be conducted. Whether you agree or not with his insight to the increase and one probably cause to schizophrenia, one has to note it should be further explored. (Toxoplasma infection, 2013, January 10; Washington, H., 2015, November 31).
Parasites – Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma infection). (2013, January 10). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/
Washington, H. (2015, November 3). Catching Madness. Retrieved November 29, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201511/catching-madness?collection=1081138
WKPIC Doctoral Intern