Study: Litter box parasite can make you crazy - KMSP-TV

Study: Litter box parasite can make you crazy

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No one likes changing a cat's litter box, but a new study suggests that a parasite carried by the pets can be transmitted to humans and alter behavior.

Luckily, the parasite is rare in the local cat population in Minnesota, and veterinarians say that there's almost no risk to health as long as some basic precautions are taken.

The parasite, known as Toxoplasma gondii, is a known risk to pregnant women since it has been linked to stillbirths, but new research suggests it may actually change the way people behave.

European researchers say the parasite has been linked to a slightly increased risk of suicide in women, and other studies have blamed the parasite for personality changes and mental illness.

Researchers theorize that the parasite attaches itself to the pre-frontal cortex of the human brain, which is the risk center. That's what the parasite does in mice and rates, and it actually makes rodents attracted to cat urine -- which could explain the crazy cat lady stereotype embodied by cat hoarders.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates more than 60 million people in the U.S. could be infected with Toxoplasma gondii. Officials say those who do have slower reflexes and are 2.5 times more likely to get into car accidents.

Cat lovers can keep themselves safe by washing their hands after changing the litter box. In fact, American researchers believe people are more likely to become infected by eating vegetables or undercooked meat.

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