Don't let your cat drive you crazy!
Avoid the possibility of feline-induced schizophrenia
It is possible that some member of your family will contract schizophrenia from the family cat. Read on, as this is very important information for you, whether you have a cat or not.
Your psychiatrist, if you have one, will scoff at this assertion. In general, I have little use for psychiatry and psychiatrists. Until now, Dr. Thomas Szasz has been the only psychiatrist for whom I have had unbounded respect. Now I have another hero from that weird cabal of family trashers, patriot bashers, and sex-obsessed gun grabbers-Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.
Dr. Torrey posits that cats may carry infectious diseases that could cause schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Torrey thinks they may be passing along Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite in cat feces, that causes brain lesions in humans and, if he's right, schizophrenia.
Reporter and editor Stephen Mihm, of Lingua Franca magazine, has written a description of schizophrenia for his report that is as good as any psychiatrist could write:
"Although it affects only 1 percent of the population, schizophrenia is among the most debilitating forms of mental illness. Trapped in a world of private delusions, a schizophrenic might cling, for example, to the belief that he is Jesus Christ, or that the government has implanted a monitoring device in his mouth during a routine dental procedure. Visual and auditory hallucinations can range from the terrifying to the merely strange: gigantic spiders, voices that insult or instruct. Some schizophrenics withdraw, becoming mute or catatonic; others remain communicative but incoherent, jumping from one topic to another without logical connections."
The potty is out and pathogens are in: dispelling Freudian fantasy
Freudian psychiatry has set back research in the schizophrenia field for 70 years, but that, hopefully, is coming to a close. The problem is not incestual fantasy; it is quite possibly something a little more prosaic and a lot more scientific-feline gastroenterology.
Torrey first formulated his astounding hypothesis 30 years ago, which made his colleagues think he himself was schizophrenic. But now, he has distinguished company in Johns Hopkins virologist Robert Yolken, who is collaborating with him. Together, they're trying to prove that toxoplasmosis is one of several infectious diseases that cause most cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Torrey and Yolken are going to do the unthinkable in their research. They will not use psycho-pharmaceutical drugs to numb their patients into submission and manageability but will treat them as normal patients suffering from an infectious disease-toxoplasmosis-using antibiotics.
Yolken states their results "would represent a major advance in the treatment of this devastating disease, as well as in understanding its basic etiology." And, he could have added, if proved it will put many of his colleagues out of business.
Schizophrenia comes full circle
Schizophrenia has a long and interesting history. With the work of Torrey and Yolken, the theories as to the cause of this sad disease have come full circle. When it first appeared in the 19th century, seemingly from nowhere, most doctors, including psychiatrists, assumed that it was some type of infection. The discovery of syphilis and its connection to insanity in the early 20th century gave further credence to the belief that schizophrenia was a biological disease, not a mental one. (It is interesting to note that the craze for cats as pets and the incidence of schizophrenia followed a parallel course.)
Paul Ewald, a professor of biology at Amherst College and a specialist in infectious diseases, is a supporter of Torrey's theories. "With schizophrenia, you have seasonal correlations, which is a telltale sign of infectious agents. There are not that many things that can explain that association," he says.
In 1922, Dr. Karl Menninger, a neurologist and psychiatrist of immense influence, hypothesized that schizophrenia was "in most instances" the byproduct of viral encephalitis. But then he made a fateful turn, abandoned science, and embraced the religion of Freud. He became a Freudian psychoanalyst and thus, with his Menninger Clinic, led the way into the black hole of Freudian make-believe.
Dr. Torrey is delightfully candid about his colleagues in his interview with Stephen Mihm: "Psychiatry was the thing you could do if you found yourself in medical school and realized that you had made a terrible mistake-that giving people rectal exams was pretty unsavory and not what you wanted to do. You could still be paid to be a doctor and talk to people about their problems."
After Torrey went to work as a special assistant to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), he shocked the psychiatric priesthood with a frontal attack that was bound to bring him grief. He wrote a blistering attack on Freudian psychoanalysis. In The Death of Psychiatry (Chilton, 1974), Torrey argued that psychiatry should either limit itself to the treatment of patients with severe brain disorders, such as schizophrenia, or abandon its medical pretensions altogether.
This firing of shots from within the castle walls brought a predictable response. Even though the book was nominated for a literary prize, it brought Torrey a demotion at St. Elizabeth's.
The battle isn't over, and the case is not proven. But I think Torrey et al. will be vindicated and schizophrenia will join heart disease, peptic ulcers, and most of the other afflictions of man as a problem of nature and not nurture.
Action to take:
(1) Have your cat checked for Toxoplasma gondii. If the blood test comes back negative, everything will be fine if your cat remains an inside cat only.
(2) Check your cat's bottom daily. They try to be fastidious, but they don't always succeed. If feces are stuck in the hair, hold the cat under your arm, with its head facing backward, and wash its hind area in the bathroom sink with warm soap and water. (Also check the paws for residue.)
(3) Always assume the cat is infected (carriers may not get sick themselves) and wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Obviously, you want to keep small children away from the box-not an easy task but extremely important. Torrey and his colleagues think that the disease is usually caught early in life and, in many cases, lies dormant for years. So it is your kids and grandchildren we are concerned with here.
By far the most important threat of an infected cat is to pregnant women. If a mother gets infected, the parasite can be transmitted in utero, leading to stillbirth, mental retardation, learning disabilities, blindness, deformities, or schizophrenia. Approximately 60% of infected pregnant women will pass the infection to their fetus.
(4) There are other ways to contract the disease, such as eating any form of raw meat. The easy answer to this is simply to cook your meat to death, which is what the experts are recommending. So you are faced with a modified Hobson's choice: Ruin your meat and face atherosclerotic heart disease or risk toxoplasmosis. There is a very simple answer to this dilemma-toss all fresh meat in the freezer for 24 hours. All toxo, and even triconella, will be killed.
I don't know why people, including scientists, pick on meat almost reflexively but almost always give fruits and vegetables a pass. Produce is generally grown in manure, and cows are also carriers of Toxoplasma gondii. So you can get this disease from unclean produce as easily as from meat.
And let's not blame Kitty for all cases of this awful disease. Any mammal and probably many different organisms may be involved. Cockroaches, flies, fleas, and other nasties may serve as hosts for T. gondii, carrying fecal material on their bodies. Just remember, a clean house is a healthy house.
There is an important "bottom line" here. The reason there has been a dramatic drop in communicable diseases in the advanced world is not due to immunizations but to increased cleanliness.
"Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia?" Lingua Franca, Stephen Mihm, 11/22/00
Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian, 19(4): 448-461, 1997
Dubey, J.P. "Toxoplasmosis," Zoonosis Updates. American Veterinary Medical Association, 144-149, 1995
Lappin, M.R. "Toxoplasmosis." Perspectives, charter issue, 8-16, 1993