Has the myth of the mind-altering parasite been busted?
There’s a fairly good chance you’re infected with a mind-altering parasite. And if not you… then maybe your cat. The parasite, known as Toxoplasma gondii, is one of the most prolific proliferators on the planet, with an ability to infect basically any warm-blooded animal on Earth. Scientists think it may have infected upwards of 3 billion human hosts.
But it’s okay! There’s no real reason to flip out — it’s mostly harmless.
Toxoplasma is a remarkable single-celled organism in the same category as the malaria parasite and has long captured the imagination of researchers and the public because of its ability to change behaviors in both rodents and humans. Studies have shown rodents infected with Toxoplasma are more fearless and some researchers have connected infection in humans with impulsiveness and mental health conditions like schizophrenia.
In most warm-blooded mammals, the parasite is basically inert and forms protective cysts to survive, including in brain tissue. The cysts remain in the body for life, slumbering away within the host (unless they have a weakened immune system,