"It indicates that this parasite could be having significant effects on age-related emotions and behaviour in people with mental illness". It's not as ridiculous a question as it might sound. "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. Toxoplasma gondii is a transmittable virus, being spread through the feces of infected cats.
Researchers looked at the mental health of 5,000 people until the age of 18.
Over the past few years, cats have increasingly attracted media attention due to a number of scientific studies reporting that a Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii) infection is linked with mental health issues, including schizophrenia, suicide and intermittent rage disorder.
"Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness", the authors reported in a press release issued with the study. The infection causes the illness known as toxoplasmosis.
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"The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health", said Dr Francesca Solmi of University College London, in a statement. Study authors had access to birth information and could tell whether the participants' mothers had cats during pregnancy or after the participants were born.
While this finding is reassuring, there is evidence linking exposure to T. Gondii in pregnancy to a risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, or health problems in the baby.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that more than 60 million people in the country may be infected with the said cat parasite.
Cat owners can breathe easy: there's little danger that your beloved tabby will make it more likely for you to develop a mental illness. For this study, researchers specifically focused on participants with complete data on psychotic experiences in early adolescence, when they were 13 years old (6,705 in total) and in late adolescence at age 18 (4,676 in total). It's commonly found in soil and reproduces in cats' digestive tracts.
To be safe, the CDC recommends pregnant people or people with a compromised immune system avoid changing a cat's litter box, but overall it's safe to keep your kitty.