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Toxoplasma gondii and Traffic Accidents September 19, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brain, Science.
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From Wikipedia: T. gondii infections have the ability to change the behavior of rats and mice, making them drawn to, rather than fearful of, the scent of cats. This effect is advantageous to the parasite, which will be able to sexually reproduce if its host is eaten by a cat. The infection is highly precise, as it does not affect a rat’s other fears such as the fear of open spaces or of unfamiliar smelling food.

Studies have also shown behavioral changes in humans, including slower reaction times and a six-fold increased risk of traffic accidents among infected males as well as links to schizophrenia including hallucinations and reckless behavior.

It turns out this knowledge is dependent on a study[1]  of male draftees at the Central Military Hospital in Prague.  If the Czech military is anything like the US military, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in the data (like the US military, there is probably a LOT of wiggle room in the conclusions). It seems as if RH positive blood defends against the disease: “Our results show that RhD-negative subjects with high titers of anti-Toxoplasma antibodies had a probability of a traffic accident of about 16.7%, i.e. a more than six times higher rate than Toxoplasma-free or RhD-positive subjects.”  T. gondii apparently clusters in human brains similar to the way it clusters in rats and mice.  No mention is made of the infected liking the company of cats…maybe T. gondii is counting on cats eating our mangled corpses after horrible accidents.

The data are sound; it seems as if a T. gondii infection can cause really slow reactions and consequent danger in driving situations…6X is no joke, and not a coincidence.  I wonder how long it will take before insurance companies require an antibody test (or Rh negative blood) to get collision insurance?

The reckless behaviour and hallucinations do sound like fun, however.

 

[1] BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:72doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-72

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