Roger Salmon column: Mice can lose their innate fear of cats with help of the parasites

Roger Salmon
Roger Salmon
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To be a successful mouse you need to stay away from cats.

To be a successful toxoplasma parasite , however, you need mice to get as close as possible to cats.

The parasites solution is to rewire the brains of rodents it infects to make them lose their fear of cats and causes permanent brain damage.

Scientists from the university of California have found that so powerful is the rodent mind control it will even persist after the mouse has been cleansed of toxoplasma.

Cats typically mark their territory with urine which helps mice detect and avoid an area in which cats lurk. Even when the parasite was undetectable the previously infected mice happily approached the cat urine.

Their uninfected colleagues stayed away.

In rodents the infection is contracted from eating cat faeces and then the parasite works its way into every organ in the body, especially the brain where it forms cysts. To complete the life cycle it needs to reinfect a cat which occurs when the cat eats a mouse.

This could have implications outside of the mouse cat relationship.

The infection can also be spread to humans as an estimated 350,000 people per year contract toxoplasma per year.

This can cause complications in pregnancy and in people with weakened immune systems.

It is also linked to schizophrenia and drugs used to treat schizophrenia seem to reduce the toxoplasma infections.

It is therefore advisable that pregnant women should be extremely careful with hygiene around cat faeces during the period of pregnancy.