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Toxoplasma infection increases risk of schizophrenia, study suggests
Date:1/16/2008

Findings from what is believed to be the largest comparison of blood samples collected from healthy individuals and people with schizophrenia suggest that infection with the common Toxoplasma gondii parasite, carried by cats and farm animals, may increase the risk of schizophrenia.

A report on the study, conducted among U.S. military personnel by researchers from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Johns Hopkins Childrens Center appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers found that of the 180 study subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia, 7 percent had been infected with toxoplasma prior to their diagnosis, compared to 5 percent among the 532 healthy recruits. Thus, people exposed to toxoplasma had a 24 percent higher risk of developing schizophrenia. The difference, while seemingly small, is important, researchers say, because the ability to explain even a small portion of the 2 million cases of schizophrenia in the United States may offer clues to the disease and some possible treatments.

For example, the investigators say they plan to study whether aggressive treatment of toxoplasma infection with antiparasitic drugs in patients with schizophrenia could halt the progression of the mental disorder, characterized by paranoia, delusions and hallucinations.

Most infections with toxoplasma occur early in life following exposure to the parasite in cat feces or undercooked beef or pork. Infections rarely cause symptoms, but the parasite remains in the body and can reactivate after lying dormant for years.

Our findings reveal the strongest association weve seen yet between infection with this very common parasite and the subsequent development of schizophrenia, says Robert Yolken, M. D., a neurovirologist at Hopkins Childrens who was among those conducting the analysis.

Previous studies have reported on the link between schizophrenia and the presence of toxoplasma an
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Contact: Katerina Pesheva
epeshev1@jhmi.edu
410-516-4996
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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