My grandfather helped to teach me to drive. He used to say, “Predicting what another driver might do, is like trying to predict the direction of a cat parade.” It turns out that cats may have a lot more to do with our driving than my grandfather ever imagined!
If I told you that an alien bug had invaded the brains of half the population, hijacked their neurochemistry and altered the way they acted behind the wheel, you probably wouldn’t believe me; yet something like this may actually be happening right now!
Toxoplasma gondii is not an alien. In fact, it is so common that in some parts of the world as much as 60% of the population is infected with this parasite. Toxoplasma gondii is transmitted indirectly from cats to people and it has been shown to affect human personalities in multiple ways. For most that are infected, the symptoms are usually no worse than a mild dose of flu; but now there is a growing body of evidence that some of those infected people may have their behavior permanently changed.
“Holy cat droppings, Batman!”
Research has shown that women who are infected with the parasite tend to be warm, outgoing and attentive to others, while infected men tend to be less intelligent and probably a bit boring. But both men and women who are infected are more prone to feeling guilty and insecure.
Dr. Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague, has studied several aspects of the Toxoplasma question. In one case he looked at the infection rate of people involved in road accidents. Dr. Flegr found that drivers and pedestrians who had been in accidents were almost three times more likely to be infected than comparable individuals who had not been.
“But officer, I have a cat!”
Dr. Flegr has also found other abnormalities in infected people. These included reduced reaction times and shorter attention spans, both of which might help to explain the accident statistics.
Like Plasmodium, which cycles between mosquitoes and man, Toxoplasma cycles between its rodent and feline hosts, living out different phases of its existence in each. In cats, it resides in the wall of the small intestine and passes out of the host in its feces. These are then picked up by rats and mice where they form cysts in brain, liver and muscle tissue. Eventually, if the parasites are lucky, their rodent host is eaten by a cat and the whole cycle starts again.
“I’m a cat lover, what should I do?”
Keep your cat on a diet of safe cat food and, if possible, not left to feed off rats or mice.
Dr. Flegr says “This isn’t about trying to freak cat owners out. Simply having a cat as a pet doesn’t mean you’re going to get infected.”
Of course, maybe some other parasite is making him say that.
Until Next Time,
Joke Of The Day:
Car Buyer: “What is this item on the sticker price?”
Car Salesman: “That is a reimbursement fee for the trip the sales manager and his wife took to France.”