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Common Parasite Associated with Increased Risk of Suicide Attempt

Common Parasite Associated with Increased Risk of Suicide Attempt

(epharmanews) – A common parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) is suspected to be responsible for an increased risk of attempting suicide in women according to a study conducted on women in Denmark and is published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Nearly one third of the world’s population is infected with T. gondii which hides in the brain cells and the muscles without any noticeable symptoms or endangering peoples’ lives. However, it may result in mental and psychological changes. Earlier studies have linked T. gondii to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and changes in behavior.

"We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection," Said Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, the senior author.

T. gondii grow in cats’ intestines and spreads through their feces to other animals as well as humans. It infects humans through direct contact with unwashed vegetables, contaminated water or cats. However, the most common way for T. gondii infection is by eating undercooked meat which is contaminated with the parasite. Pregnant women can also infect their unborn babies; this is why they are advised to avoid domestic cats.

For the purpose of this study, researchers analyzed the data from 45,788 women in Denmark who gave birth between 1992 and 1995 and whose babies were screened for T. gondii immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. Babies do not produce antibodies to T. gondii for three months after they are born, so the antibodies present in their blood represented infection in the mothers. The scientists scoured Danish health registries to determine if any of these women later attempted suicide, including cases of violent suicide attempts which may have involved guns, sharp instruments and jumping from high places. The researchers also cross-checked records in the Danish Psychiatric Central Register to determine if the women had been diagnosed previously with mental illness.

The study could not explain the increased suicide incidence in women infected with T. gondii. The parasite may have a direct effect on the brain cells. Exaggerated immune system response may also be the reason why women infected with the parasite tend to commit suicide. More research is required to determine the reason and help reduce suicide cases around the world. Suicide is a serious issue especially now that a million people commit suicide yearly, and ten millions attempt to commit suicide but fail.

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Prepared by: Basel AlJunaidy

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