What exactly does the release of this latest study mean for Washington State families and is there a real danger?

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Washington: New Warnings Linking Mental Illness and Cat Exposure

As long as I have been alive, the stereotype of the crazy cat lady has existed but now it looks like there might be some truth to that after all. This subject is both alarming and important for cat owners in Washington State, mainly because there are a lot of them. Washington State is ranked 5th in the USA for cat ownership and has over 84,000 registered cats as pets in the State alone. The recent warning comes from a University in Queensland, Australia, that looked at multiple studies covering this subject from the 1980s to now. There have been questions about the link between cats and certain types of mental illness for decades, and scientists are just now starting to understand why.

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The Link Between Cats and Schizophrenia

The study looked at research published from 1980 to now on Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Web of Science, and gray literature. They identified 1915 different studies that were chosen for a full standard review which eliminated most of the nearly 2,000 down to under 20. They ranked each study based on the assessed risk of bias, heterogeneity, and study quality to make their choices of the studies used. In total 17 studies were included from from 11 different countries looking at the link between mental illness and cat exposure. Using meta-data, they found that people raised around cats from a young age and were bitten showed a correlation to developing Schizophrenia later in life. In fact, the review found that people bitten before the age of 25 were twice as likely as people who were not bitten, even if they had early exposure.

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Cat Bites Can Transfer Parasite

The main concern comes from the possibility of the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii being transferred to a human that has been bitten by an infected cat. Another study brought this to light last year in 2022. The parasite is known to cause toxoplasmosis which is linked to developing Schizophrenia later in life. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 60 million people are infected with T. Gondii and that there are 3.7 million people who suffer from Schizophrenia. Just the presence of the parasite does not automatically mean the person will develop the disease. They have learned that other factors like genetics also play a large role in the end. The average rate of risk without exposure of being bitten is around 1%, making the 2+% risk for being bitten just over double the normal average by calculations. Is this something that families in Washington State need to be afraid of? After going through the data I would say no, but cat owners should definitely be aware of the risk at the very least. Even with the large population of cats in Washington, we rank just below the national average at .8% for rates of Schizophrenia. Washington State is home to 7.7 million people with just over 66,000 known cases of Schizophrenia. You can read the release statement information and sources at the National Library of Medicine.

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