The title is a bit of a joke because I think the story behind it is a bit of a joke too. Perhaps it is meant to be a sort of spoof but that does not seem to be the case. Jaroslav Flegr is said to be ‘no kook’ meaning he is not mad, but he does have extreme ideas and without wishing to be insulting he does look a little crazy.
He believes that the parasite (a protozoan) that causes toxoplamosis, Toxoplasma gondii, and which is excreted in a cat’s feces can get into your brain and make you mad. Well not raving mad but make you do things that are not good for you or which indicate a changed personality. The parasite tweaks the connections between our neurons, it is said. It can cause schizophrenia and he says it may kill “at least a million people a year”. All this is happening without anyone realising it. Toxoplasma gondii is under the radar turning us crazy and killing us without any doctors diagnosing it as the cause of a range of illnesses and death. Is this likely or even possible?
The parasite can also change your personality in a subtle way, he says. Infected men became more introverted and disregarded rules while women became more outgoing and rule abiding.
To me it is far fetched, very far fetched. I really would have thought that the medical profession would have isolated this organism as the cause of certain illnesses by now and given a name to it. They like doing that sort of thing – but nothing.
Toxoplasma gondii is best know for its potential hazard to pregnant women. If there is a cat in the household and if a woman cleans out her cat’s litter tray, there is the potential for the protozoan to get into the women via the cat’s feces and thence to the unborn child where it can cause harm to the child. There is a risk there but by far the greater risk with respect to this parasite getting inside us is in the handling of raw meat etc. That point is not often made – this article covers the point in more detail.
There is quite a lot of fear about Toxoplasma gondii and how cats, particularly feral cats, spread the disease toxoplamosis, which is zoonotic (transmissable between animal and human). It is overrated in my view but used against the cat as a reason to persecute it.
Further reading on toxoplasmosis: The truth about toxoplasmosis and cats.
What do other people have to say about Mr Flegr’s theory? Here are some example:
- One person who comments on Flegr’s theory says that he does have some of the personality traits described. However personality traits are not a very good diagnostic tool are they?
- Mice are detrimentally affected by making them lose fear of cats, leading to them being caught by cats and eaten and thereby completing the life cycle of the parasite. That is hard science and true.
- A step-mother who hated cats became very fond of cats after her step-son brought an abandoned kitten home against her wishes. Was it the parasite who changed her personality? Who knows and who cares? The change was good for cats!
- Most of the comments to the original article are joke comments so they clearly aren’t taking this seriously or they are cat haters who have found a place to declare their hatred for the cat.
Conclusion: The theory does not fly.