A study linking the disease to a psychiatric disorder marked by aggression didn’t include cats — but you’d never know it from the headlines.
Cats Again Get a Bad Rap in Toxoplasmosis Coverage
s.e. smith | Apr 20th 2016
Toxoplasmosis is back. A new study led by researchers from the University of Chicago links the disease with Intermittent Explosive Disorder, in which patients experience outbursts of extreme anger. Headlines such as “Could germ from cat poop trigger rage disorder in people?” and “Cats Might Be the Reason Some People Are So Terrible” are circulating, but this is not in fact a study about cats. It’s a study about toxoplasmosis and the parasite that causes it, Toxoplasma gondii.
The study ran ran in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, which has a rigorous peer-review process and has been published for more than 75 years. In other words, it carries some serious weight, and the researchers knew what they were doing. Put in layperson’s terms, the effort was building on existing studies (like this one from 2013 and another from 2015) suggesting that there was a correlation between T. gondii infection and psychiatric conditions. Specifically, researchers were curious to see whether the infection was associated with more aggressive behavior.
This study was published in 2016, drawing upon years of data, including blood samples that indicated whether patients have been infected with T. gondii. The extended collection period would have allowed researchers to get a big-picture finding and control for other factors that might influence personality and behavior. The study involved 358 patients including a control group, people diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and those with other mental health conditions. These are all sound research practices, and the recent publication date indicates that the study took advantage of the latest developments in psychiatry and clinical research.
Those involved in the study have noted a consistent link between suicidal behavior and impulsive aggression over the course of their research, and they were also aware of studies like the ones linked above suggesting that T. gondii is connected to aggression.