Kill cats, save humans (and the health budget)
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-06-09
New Scientist presents even more evidence why we should develop a "cat calicivirus", wiping out all cats in Australia except those with owners prepared to cough up money for a vaccine – and preferably put money into a fund to compensate the nation for the 1500 Australians killed by cats every year (and that’s not including suicides by those with schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder).
New Scientist cites estimates of Toxoplasmosis-related road deaths worldwide between 400 thousand and a million each year (and then we should add in the costs of injuries and rehabilitation). Toxoplasmosis would not spread if there were no cats.
As we cannot vaccinate every cat against the Toxoplasmosis parasite, the only alternative is to create a virus that kills all cats except those vaccinated against the cat-killing virus.
Those who were Rh-negative and had toxo were 2.5 times as likely to have an accident as uninfected drivers who were Rh-negative, or any Rh-positive drivers
Flegr says these results suggest that between 400,000 and a million of the world’s annual road deaths might be due to toxo infection. He suggests regularly testing Rh-negative pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers for the infection.
I don’t think dogs would attack, let alone be contributory causes to the death of anywhere near that many people each year.
This relates to accumulating evidence that the archetypal "mad old cat lady" liked cats and then became mad.
More quantitatively, early exposure of children to cats dramatically increases the risk of the child being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
So, to reduce the costs associated with road trauma, the Transport Accident Commission and similar agencies in other states should engage in a massive cat eradication program, lowering (if Flegr’s estimates are right) the average death tolls in Australian states by a couple of hundred.
It’s obviously more ethical (and certainly cheaper during regulatory approvals) to design a bug and vaccine specific to cats rather than immunize all humans.
…and Australia is the perfect place to release it, because there are no native cats, and the beneficial effects on native wildlife would be huge.
But killing one cat isn’t enough to stop what must be a significant portion of government spending in countries with many cat lovers… you have to ensure that people don’t come into contact with cats that have been infected with T. gondii – and that’s nearly all of them. (Add up the costs of road accidents, the cost of treating 50% of schizophrenics and the significant costs associated with social services and lost productivity for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders… if it comes much under 1% of government spending I’d be surprised.)
Maybe when motor vehicle insurers demand an extra charge for cat lovers, especially Rh-negative ones, in the same way that life insurance costs more for smokers, then something might change and many preventable deaths, on roads, and through suicide, wouldn’t happen any more, and our hard-pressed native wildlife will be happier.
And I wouldn’t mind if, because of a highly desirable eradication of felids in Australia, the only cats I like had to change their name back to "The Seagulls"
- "Increased incidence of traffic accidents in Toxoplasma-infected military drivers and protective effect RhD molecule revealed by a large-scale prospective cohort study" (2009-05-26) BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:72doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-72 also suggests RhD polymorphism may arise because of the need to protect ourselves from cats (Rh+) versus the benefits of Rh- that must explain the continued existence in the population despite the plague of cats.
Our results show that RhD-negative subjects with high titers of anti-Toxoplasma antibodies had a probability of a traffic accident of about 16.7%, i.e. a more than six times higher rate than Toxoplasma-free or RhD-positive subjects.
…and yes, I note the difference in these figures from that in the New Scientist article.
- "Parasite may increase your odds of an auto accident" (2009-06-09) New Scientist – up to 2.5 times more likely if you are Rh-negative
- "A Unique Dual Activity Amino Acid Hydroxylase in Toxoplasma gondii" PLoS One
- "Toxoplasmosis parasite may trigger schizophrenia and bipolar disorders" (2009-03-11) Science Daily
- From the US CDC (Centre for Disease Control):
- "Toxoplasmosis/Pregnant women"
Most infected infants do not have symptoms at birth but can develop serious symptoms later in life, such as blindness or mental disability. Occasionally infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.
- "Toxoplasma gondii and schizophrenia" (2003-11)
Since 1953, a total of 19 studies of T. gondii antibodies in persons with schizophrenia and other severe psychiatric disorders and in controls have been reported; 18 reported a higher percentage of antibodies in the affected persons; in 11 studies the difference was statistically significant. Two other studies found that exposure to cats in childhood was a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia.
- "Toxoplasmosis/Pregnant women"
- "Maternal Exposure to Toxoplasmosis and Risk of Schizophrenia in Adult Offspring" Am J Psychiatry 162:767-773, April 2005
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that maternal exposure to toxoplasmosis may be a risk factor for schizophrenia. The findings may be explained by reactivated infection or an effect of the antibody on the developing fetus. Given that toxoplasmosis is a preventable infection, the findings, if replicated, may have implications for reducing the incidence of schizophrenia.
- "Research supports toxoplasmosis link to schizophrenia" (2009-03-11) University of Leeds Media Release
"In addition, the ability of the parasite to make dopamine implies a potential link with other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit disorders, says Dr McConkey. "We’d like to extend our research to look at this possibility more closely."
- Cat’s are parasites themselves – see 3quarksdaily referencing Scientific American
- My daughter, much to my horror, has a cat and my grandson is exposed to it. I’ve been banned from using such phrases as "Evil Kitty" in my grandson’s presence, so I’ve taken to referring to it as "Her Maleficence". Unfortunately, my hatred of cats doesn’t extend to cruelty, so if it’s bowl of water is dry, I refill it while saying "I am NOT your friend". It doesn’t stop me cheering the local magpies when they taunt the spawn of Satan.