For some, cats are more than just household pets that you occasionally pet, but cats are more of companions and more human-like in some aspects. These people are often referred to as the “crazy cat ladies” of the world. Stores such as Urban Outfitters has recently started a trend in cat apparel, mugs, pins, or anything else you could think of. Could this be because cat ladies are on the rise? Or is this just another marketing scheme to make the already crazy even crazier?
Recent studies have been blaming the toxoplasma parasite on this cat lady phenomena. We had recently talked about this in class, however nothing was said of it causing a love of cats… As crazy as this sounds, when I searched toxoplasma and cat ladies many things appeared, it was also said here that over 60 million people in the U.S. alone have this parasite. If you weren’t in class when we talked about this parasite then here are a few facts, the parasite needs a host, only able to live in the gut of a cat in order to reproduce, the parasite forms eggs that pass through the animals fecal matter. This then can come into contact with mice or even humans. The toxoplasma controls the Amygdala in the brain which controls things like your emotions. This makes the rat or mouse become somewhat “attracted” to cats and easier for the cats to prey on. Then this forms a cycle of cat eats rat, and parasite lives in cat’s gut producing eggs, then the cat produces fecal matter that rat eats. So what happens when toxoplasma gets into a human? We can’t exactly be killed by cats so what would it make our brain think to do?
Here’s where the science gets a little shaky. Studies are all over the place in explaining what actually the parasite makes us think, if anything at all! There were no studies on whether or not you can become a cat lady from this parasite, however I found many other interesting studies on this parasite.
This study tells us that women exposed to the parasite were 54% more likely to attempt suicide compared to non infected women, this percentage went up depending on how high the levels of infection were, creating a positive correlation between level of infection and suicide. However this article is clearly stating that correlation does not equal causation and they aren’t ruling out reverse causation in this case either. Did they take into consideration other variables? The study was fairly large of 45,000 women in Denmark who were infected. However, according to abc news, about 10 million people attempt suicide every year and 1 million succeed. I think a better observational study would be to test the suicide victims to see if they had the parasite when they died.
Also, studies such as this one have shown a link between traffic accidents and the parasite. It states that infected people are 3 to 4 more times as likely of being in car accidents due to reckless driving. The parasite is known to impair reaction time which would explain why if you’re infected, you’re more likely to get into a car accident. It’s also known to make people more of a risk-taker which can be linked back to the suicide studies.
Many of these articles also believe that the majority of people pick up the virus from uncooked or undercooked meat.The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say that eating undercooked meat or accidentally ingesting contaminated meat is a main way to get infected. Also coming into contact with contaminated cat feces is a way to get infected. So people don’t necessarily have to have a cat to pick up this parasite.
There are many crazy studies out there on this parasite and the effects it has on our bodies and minds. However, there is no scientific evidence that being infected with toxoplasma makes us more attracted to cats. It is a very interesting thing to think about, but as of science now, there is no link. To clear up this problem, and possibly to save lives of the infected, we could conduct more observational studies comparing people that are affected and their everyday actions with the non infected. Even more experimental animal studies could be done to better explain the effects toxoplasma has on other creatures rather than just mice. I believe that something could be going on in our brains when infected, the main question being what?
Ending on a few last questions, do you think toxo controls our mind? Do you think it can make us suicidal when no other factors are involved? Could this explain why some of us are poor drivers compared to others? Are we in danger of all being crazy cat ladies if infected?