Our lead scientist is also writes the ‘Hygiene Mythbuster’ column for Cleaning Matters magazine. In this article he explains the science linking cat ownership to car crashes…
Who needs hygiene myths when the facts are so much more interesting? I guarantee this is the coolest thing you will read today so get the kettle on and enjoy…
Let me state my biases up front: I am not a cat person. In fact, I find the idea of having one of the revolting little blighters anywhere near me beyond abhorrent. The 17% of households that are home to the UK’s 8 million domestic cats might disagree but I wonder if they realise they are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a car crash?
Cats are a microbiological minefield and carry a host of pathogens that can cause anything from cat scratch fever to plague – there was even a case of a Pasteurella meningitis in a young girl who allowed Tiddles to lick tuna off her nose. Ick!
But have you heard of Toxoplasma gondii? A ‘toxo’ infection can be risky for the pregnant and the immunosuppressed but blood tests show a whopping 30% of the population has been exposed to it at some point. And those people are 2.65 times more likely to have been involved in a traffic accident.
Toxo is a parasite with a complex and fascinating life cycle; it can infect almost any bird or animal but cats are its ‘definitive’ host – that is, toxo can only complete its lifecycle within the intestine of the fluffy vermin. So it needs to find a way of getting there.
Mice have evolved to flee the odour of cat urine, but when they are infected with toxo it produces a brain-altering chemical that makes mice permanently lose their innate fear of cats. In this wonderful example of co-evolution the infected and fearless mouse wanders up to a cat and is promptly eaten, allowing toxo to complete its life cycle.
This chemical messes with the dopamine pathway – a pathway that we share – and studies have shown that toxo’s impact on risk aversion isn’t limited to mice. Toxo is a risk factor for schizophrenia, ADHD and is implicated in higher rates of workplace accidents and suicides – so it’s not just car crashes.
Because people can be infected but show no symptoms, concerns have been raised that toxo might be a hugely underestimated economic and public health issue.
I just think it’s great science has finally proved Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome really does exist.