Updated 11:44 AM ET, Wed February 22, 2017
This article has been re-shared from it’s original source, CNN.com
Published in the medical journal Psychological Medicine
, the new study is the first to prospectively look at childhood cat ownership and the infection of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a risk factor for psychosis.
House cats are known to be the primary host of T. gondii, which infects various warm-blooded animals (including humans) and causes a disease called toxoplasmosis
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected with the parasite. However, most individuals who develop toxoplasmosis experience few symptoms because their immune systems keep the parasite from causing illness.
But in pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, the disease could cause serious health problems, including damage to the brain, eyes and other organs. Infants who are born to women infected with T. gondii during or just before their pregnancy are most at risk for developing severe toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis can be contracted through undercooked meat and contaminated water, but it can also be contracted through contact with feces containing the parasite.
Previous research into cat ownership and the development of mental health disorders has been limited, according to Francesca Solmi, the lead author of the study and a research associate in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London.
“Because cats are the primary host of Toxoplasma gondii, it had been suggested that they might put people at increased risk of mental illness, including schizophrenia, by exposing them to T. gondii infection,” she said. “However, some of the studies that have looked at this association had methodologically limitations.”