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THURSDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Infection with the common Toxoplasma gondii parasite -- carried by cats and farm animals -- may increase a person's risk of schizophrenia, a U.S. study suggests.
Publishing in the January issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Johns Hopkins Children's Center found that 7 percent of the 180 schizophrenia patients in the study had been infected with toxoplasma before their diagnosis, comp
Originally posted by Agent Styx
Cats have only really been domesticated for abotu 300 years, unlike dogs, where we havent had as much time to build up immunities to them.
Earlier archaeological evidence and research on the evolutionary history of cats has suggested that domestication of the cat originated about 5,000 to 8,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a region located today in the Middle East. This is the area around the eastern end of the Mediterranean, stretching from Turkey to northern Africa and eastward to modern day Iraq and Iran. This domestication of the cat occurred as humans transitioned from nomadic herding to raising crops and livestock
Most toxoplasma infections occur early in life through exposure to cat feces or undercooked beef or pork. Infections rarely cause symptoms, but the parasite remains in the body and can become active after being dormant for many years, according to background information in a news release about the study.
Most people infected with toxoplasma never develop schizophrenia, but the parasite may trigger the mental illness in people who are genetically predisposed to it, explained Yolken.
The causative agent of toxoplasmosis, the disease, is usually minor and self-limiting but can have serious or even fatal effects on a fetus whose mother first contracts the disease during pregnancy or on an immunocompromised human or cat.
T. gondii infections have the ability to change the behavior of rats and mice, making them drawn to rather than fearful of the scent of cats. This effect is advantageous to the parasite, which will be able to sexually reproduce if its host is eaten by a cat.  The infection is almost surgical in its precision, as it does not impact a rat's other fears such as the fear of open spaces or of unfamiliar smelling food. There has been speculation that human behavior may also be affected in some ways, and correlations have been found between latent Toxoplasma infections and various characteristics such as decreased novelty-seeking behavior, slower reactions, feelings of insecurity, and neuroticism. .
Several independent pieces of evidence point towards a possible role of Toxoplasma infection in some cases of schizophrenia and paranoia, but this theory does not seem to account for many cases. A recent study has indicated toxoplasmosis is also correlated strongly with an increase in boy births in humans, leading to an alteration of the human sex proportion. According to the researchers, "depending on the antibody concentration, the probability of the birth of a boy can increase up to a value of 0.72 ... which means that for every 260 boys born, 100 girls are born." The study also notes a mean rate of 0.60 to 0.65 (as opposed to the normal 0.51) for Toxoplasma positive mothers.
Other possible behavior modifications are suggested by a study suggesting that people not infected with the parasite found women with toxoplasma more attractive than women who don't have toxoplasma. 
The prevalence of human infection by Toxoplasma varies greatly between countries. Factors that influence infection rates include diet (prevalence is possibly higher where there is a preference for less-cooked meat) and proximity to cats.
One curious finding is that people diagnosed with schizophrenia are more likely to have been born in winter or spring, (at least in the northern hemisphere).
Children can form strong bonds with their pets and for many youngsters losing a pet may be their first experience of the death of something close to them.