posted on Sep, 22 2003 @ 05:29 AM
I read in the times the other day, it was discovered that domestic cats transmit a wierd form infection that alters your behaviour. Aparently 50% in
the UK and US are infected, and it goes for something like 80% in France and Germany.
Danger — your pet cat could alter your personality
Jonathan Leake and Dearbhail McDonald
THEY may look like lovable pets but Ireland’s domestic cats are being blamed by scientists for infecting up to half the population with a parasite
that can alter people’s personalities.
The startling figures emerge from studies into toxoplasma gondii, a parasite carried by almost all the country’s feline population.
They show that half of humans carry the parasite in their brains and that infected people may undergo slow but crucial changes in their behaviour.
Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to
exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun-loving and possibly more promiscuous.
The findings have angered Ireland’s cat lovers, who have dismissed the study as anti-feline propaganda and claim that cats are good for your health.
“My cat has certainly made me a much calmer person but I don’t know if it has had an alley cat effect on my husband yet,” said Maeve Binchy, the
They haven’t made me more attractive and I haven’t been out spending lots of money. I don’t like cats getting bad publicity. Anyone who loves cats has
to be a fairly decent person, they’re dead easy to love.”
Anne Doyle, the RTE broadcaster, is Ireland’s most celebrated cat lover. Five years ago, Doyle claimed on The Late Late Show that her two cats,
Tiddles and Fluffy, were the only loves in her life.
Hugh Leonard, a playwright, said: “Cats haven’t done much for me, I haven’t changed much but they did make my partner more attractive.” Leonard owns
three cats and has penned a memoir entitled Rover and Other Cats.
Lindy Vaughan, a lecturer in veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, said once you are infected with the parasite you carry it for life. “I
don’t know if it really can alter personalities but it can cause congenital birth defects in unborn babies and even death for mothers,” said Vaughan,
who is researching toxoplasma-induced abortions in Irish sheep.
The research — conducted at universities in Britain, the Czech Republic and America — was sponsored by the Stanley Research Medical Institute of
Maryland, a leading centre for the study of mental illness. The institute has already published research showing that people infected with the
toxoplasma parasite are at greater risk of developing schizophrenia and manic depression.
The study into more subtle changes in human personality is being carried out by Professor Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague. In one study
he subjected more than 300 volunteers to personality profiling while also testing them for toxoplasma.
He found the women infected with toxoplasma spent more money on clothes and were consistently rated as more attractive. “We found they were more easy
going, more warm hearted, had more friends and cared more about how they looked,” he said. “However, they were also less trustworthy and had more
relationships with men” By contrast, the infected men appeared to suffer from the “alley cat” effect: becoming less well groomed, undesirable loners
who were more willing to fight. They tended to be more suspicious and jealous. “They tended to dislike following rules,” said Flegr.
He also discovered that people infected with toxoplasma had delayed reaction times and are at greater risk of being involved in car accidents.
“Toxoplasma infection could represent a serious and highly underestimated economic and public health problem,” he said.
Toxoplasma moves in a natural cycle between rats and cats. Rats acquire it from contact with cat faeces and cats re-acquire it from hunting infected
rats. It has long been known that humans can become infected through close contact with cats.
Pregnant women are advised to keep clear of the animals because the parasite can damage unborn babies. One Irish mother has already died this year
because of the condition.
Until now, however, the parasite has always been thought harmless to healthy people because their immune systems could suppress the infection. But
this view seems certain to change, especially in the light of research at Oxford University.
Scientists there have found that when the parasite invades rats it reprograms their brains, reducing their fear of cats. It is this ability to destroy
natural inhibitions that is thought to be at work in humans.