Solmin says that she and her team became interested in investigating the link between cat ownership and psychosis partly because most of the authors on the work actually have a furball of their own. This is the first study to take a look at childhood cat ownership and infection of the said parasite as a factor in pyschosis. Most people don't show any symptoms of the infection, but people with a weaker immune system could get sick with toxoplasmosis, which has been linked to miscarriage, fetal developmental disorders, blindness, and flu-like symptoms.
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But now, a study of 5,000 people published by the medical journal Psychological Medicine has completely ruled out mental disease being linked to cat ownership.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "more than 60 million men, women, and children in the USA carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness". She said what they found in their unadjusted data from the study was a very small link to owning a cat and mental health problems at about 13-years-old.
For some time people have believed that owning cats was associated with mental health issues, this was especially true for individuals who grew up with feline companions.
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Solmi led the study of almost 5,000 people born in the early 90's. "By itself, household crowding is a risk factor that has been associated with schizophrenia, and if the crowding leads to greater contact with the household cats, then adjusting for household crowding statistically may eliminate the legitimate association between cat exposure and, in this case, unusual thoughts", said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, an associate director of research at the Stanley Medical Institute who has also conducted research in cat ownership and toxoplasmosis.
"Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not post a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms", Dr. James Kirkbride, the study's senior author, said in a news release.
While, the study did not find a link between T. Gondii and mental health, it can still cause other serious problems during pregnancy or in early childhood. But Solmi added that if there's a cat-mental illness connection, the early signs would be detectable when the participants were screened for psychotic experiences at ages 13 and 18.
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Soiled litter boxes are not the only places to contract the parasite.