A New Twist on the Notion of the Crazy Cat Lady
A common parasite that can lurk in the cat litter box may cause undetected brain changes in women that make them more prone to suicide, according to an international study.
Scientists have long known that pregnant women infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite — spread through cat feces, undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables — could risk still birth or brain damage if transmitted to an unborn infant.
But a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark shows changes in their own brains after being infected by the common parasite.
One the one hand, few things sound as bad as a parasitic infection in the brain. On the other:
More than 60 million men, women, and children in the United States carry the toxoplasma parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very few have symptoms.
"The parasite does actually alter the brain of its host," Stanford University study co-author Patrick House told ABCNews.com 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."