Study links cat parasite and suicide attempts in humans
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Scientists have found a mysterious link between a cat parasite and increased suicidal tendencies in people, especially in women, a finding they say could help predict those at greater risk of attempting to kill themselves and also find ways to intervene.
Psychiatrists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that women infected with the parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, are more likely to attempt suicide than non-infected women. However, the reason for this connection still remains a mystery.
T-gondii is a protozoa that prefers to infect cats, but humans can pick up the parasite from contact with cat feces, or by eating infected meat or vegetables. Once ingested, the parasite can make a home for itself inside the person's brain and muscle tissues, protected inside cysts that are resistant to attacks by the host's immune system, the researchers said.
Some studies have linked infection by this parasite with a variety of mental health and brain problems. But they aren't clear on whether the parasite contributes to these problems or is a mere side effect.
The new study also has the same limitation. Researchers can't say for sure whether the parasite somehow drives people to suicide. But in women with infections, they found, the risk of an attempt is 1.5 times greater than in women without.
"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," lead author TeodorPostolache was quoted as saying by LiveScience.
In the study, Postolache and his team looked at 45,788 Danish women whose newborns had been screened for T-gondii antibodies between 1992 and 1995 (a positive result was a sure sign that mom was infected). About a quarter of the women had been infected at the time of delivery, the results revealed.
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