By now, everyone has some sort of inkling that cats are somewhat manipulative and every cat nay-sayer will bring out the much toted evidence of brain-controlling parasites that is Toxoplasmosa Gondii.
A fairly speculative debate of late is whether T. Gondii can alter human behaviour. The hypotheses that it may influence mood disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia and incline an individual to more violent and risky behaviours have been tossed about in literature. These theories come from its action on rodent behaviour where infected rats become drawn to feline urine and lose their fear. With rodents being so often the literal guinea pig, researchers have theorised its potential alarming effects on human behaviour sensationalised as ‘Cat ladies more likely to suicide’. Strains of T. Gondii have been noted to be evolving into more aggressive types so it does strike as a plausible organism for the origin of The Walking Dead. At its’ extreme, T. Gondii could be key to the zombie apocalypse with currently no treatment known.
Having infected a third of the human population and most unaware of it, T.Gondii is frankly not a priority for world saving scientists and to be honest, it doesn’t add much to literature apart from dissecting the strange relationship that exists between humans and cats as well as adding to zombie conspiracies.
That is, until the immune system is compromised either from an immune deficiency, weakened by severe disease or under the strain of pregnancy and T. Gondii pops out in a miserable affliction known as Toxoplasmosis. This manifests itself as encephalitis or myocarditis inducing brain damage or a heart attack. Pregnant women especially face severe complications for their unborn baby if infected during their term. The problem is we don’t really help T. Gondii out much despite being forced into an unholy matrimony with it.
Its’ true carrier are cats.
T.Gondii begins when an infected rodent is hunted down and eaten by a curious cat. Active T. Gondii will travel down to Curious Cat’s gut where it divides itself and multiplies, producing oocysts in Curious Cat’s crap. These precursors for infectious spores end up in your cat’s faeces. Opinion is divided on how long it takes the oocyts to become infectious—some say it takes weeks, though the RSPCA have said only 24hours to 5 days are necessary. Once sporous, it can last up to a year although luckily your cat will poop it out for only 3 weeks. A curious rodent may then come along and feast on these infected faeces to complete the life cycle.
Humans inadvertently ingest infected faeces from either contaminated produce or undercooked meat from animals that have ingested the parasite. For cat owners, the parasite can also be transmitted through contact with infected cat litter, or with contaminated soil or water. For the majority of victims, T. Gondii will sit there silently, apart from small flu like symptoms which disappear without notice.
Is T. Gondii just biding its time, pulling the strings behind the kitty curtains to spring a dystopia worthy of a movie franchise?
Hold back the hysteria. For now, no definitive relationship has been identified and the papers on human behaviour are based on very fallible designs. The results are ambiguous as many factors contribute to disorders of the mind than just a parasite. So before we start advocating for the cull of all cats, T.Gondii is more likely to be picked up from infected soil or produce for the avid gardener than the avid cat lady.
Also cats are cute. And I may have already been infected.
Helpful survive life PSA tip:
**If anything, keep those pregnant ladies away and your cat inside. Clean that cat box daily with gloves and garden with gloves. For the paranoid germaphobes, cat boxes can be easily disinfected with boiling water, bleach or even by UV treatment a la the Sun. Also nothing is more powerful than a thorough soapy hand wash.
A variation of this originally appeared in Honi Soit 2015, Semester 2, Week 9 as “T. Gondii and Cats, Key to Zombie Apocalypse?”