If you own a cat and you’re feeling suicidal those tendencies could be brought on by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.
Studying more than 45,000 Danish women researchers recently discovered that females carrying the bacteria were 1.5 times more likely to kill themselves than women who were not infected.
Published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researcher Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist for the University of Maryland says the absolute risk is still very low as only 1,000 women attempted any sort of self-directed violence over the 30-year span in which the study focused and only seven managed to commit suicide.
It should be noted that this is not the first study to link toxoplasmosis to link changes in behavior (see our previous article for more details). In some cases the bacteria has been linked to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other side effects.
Cat owners are most likely to become infected with T. gondii if they handle cat litter or work in a garden where an outdoor cat goes to the bathroom. Taxoplasmosis is also more likely when eating vegetables or meat that are raw or undercooked.
While researchers are not sure how Taxoplasmosis affects a human brain they have witnessed cysts in the brains of rodents infected with the bacteria which likely explains a change in brain activity.
Researchers are by no means telling humans to get rid of their cats but rather to be more conscious of how they handle litter and work in the garden. Pregnant women should be especially carefully as taxoplasmosis can cause harm to a fetus.