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article imageIs schizophrenia linked to human parasites?

By Tim Sandle     Nov 15, 2014 in Science
There are many possible causes of schizophrenia, from genetic to environmental. One unusual factor could be, in some cases, parasites.
In relation to parasites, some scientists think that infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite transmitted by soil, undercooked meat and cat feces, could be linked to schizophrenia. This is based on new research that uses epidemiological modeling. The study concludes that approximately one-fifth of cases may be connected to infection with the parasite.
Infection with the worm Toxoplasma is relatively common, although only a few people show any symptoms. In the U.S., for example, it is estimated that a fifth of the population is infected with the parasitic worm T. gondii. The main risk groups are pregnant women or those with weak immune system, where the disease toxoplasmic encephalitis can occur.
Now, a new risk factor has emerged: an association with the parasite and the chance of developing schizophrenia, especially when the parasite occurs in the brain. New research has correlated infections with changes in behavior and personality. Further supporting evidence for the hypothesis is in regions where the prevalence of T. gondii infection is much higher than in the U.S. Here such countries also have a higher incidence of schizophrenia.
Further research into this area could, if the results are supported, lead to new forms of treatment and care.
The research was undertaken at the Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine and the findings have been published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine. The paper is titled “Estimating the population attributable fraction for schizophrenia when Toxoplasma gondii is assumed absent in human populations.”
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