LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM. Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite that infects 30-60% of the world's population. It releases eggs that are spread in cat feces and can only reproduce in cats. Up to now, medical researchers have believed that toxoplasmosis, an infection with Toxoplasma, is quite harmless except in the case of pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system. This belief is now being challenged.
A team of researchers at Oxford University has found that rats infected with Toxoplasma become more reckless and have slower reaction times thus making them easier prey for cats. A comparison of behaviour and reaction times between men and women with toxoplasmosis and those without showed that infected men were more independent and more inclined to break rules. Both men and women infected with Toxoplasma were found to have significantly slower reaction times than non-infected individuals.
A separate study carried out by a group of researchers at the University of Prague found that people with a
latent toxoplasmosis infection were 2.7 times more likely to be involved in a car accident, whether as driver
or pedestrian. Says Joanna Webster of Oxford University, "I definitely think there is something there.
There's no reason to think that the parasite could not manipulate humans".
Editor's comment: The best way of avoiding a toxoplasmosis infection is to avoid contact with cat feces, washing hands thoroughly after gardening, and avoiding raw and undercooked meat. Microfiltration of drinking water from watersheds accessible to cats would also be helpful.