Are there two people in the room with you? Odds are, at least one of you is infected with the parasite toxoplasma gondi, which you got from your cat. The disease it transmits is not serious, really, unless you’re pregnant.
Toxoplasmosis is a serious disease when transmitted from a pregnant mother to the unborn fetus, potentially resulting in stillbirth, brain damage, or long-term eye damage that can lead to blindness. Even worse, it’s extremely common in a most common animal, the house cat—and it’s easily transmissible from cats to humans. The parasite that causes it, Toxoplasma gondii, is found in one-third to one-half of all humans—over two billion individuals! This potential killer likes to take up residence inside your brain.
So why don’t we hear more about toxoplasmosis? There are a couple reasons. First, it’s a relatively benign disease for most people, comparable to a moderate flu. Second, it’s much less common in its most dangerous form, when transmitted from a pregnant woman to the fetus.
As long as you wash your hands when cleaning up after your kitty, no problem. Unless you’re pregnant, in which case stay away from the kitty litter entirely.
Or you could get rid of your cat.
What if that’s your parasite talking?
In the wild, T. gondi is transmitted from cat feces through a rat back to another cat. And here’s the thing: T. gondi infects the brain of the rat, and changes the rat’s behavior so that the rat no longer fears cats. This reduces the life span of the rat, of course, but increases the odds that the parasite will land in another cat and keep a’going.
Maybe the rat so infected thinks cats are cute.
And maybe, just maybe, that warm and fuzzy feeling you get with your kitty is a symptom.
Last week, the amateur scientist and science-themed musician DJ Busby discussedanother report that analyzed 11 different studies, nine of which found correlations between toxoplasma infection and several different personality traits.