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1 June 2005
Exposure To Toxoplasmosis Associated With Schizophrenia

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can develop from eating undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables, drinking contaminated water, or not washing one's hands after gardening or changing cat litter boxes. Now, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests there is an association between maternal exposure to toxoplasmosis and an increased risk for developing schizophrenia in grown-up children. The study was conducted by researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

Researchers found the potential association between high maternal toxoplasmosis gondii antibodies and the development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in adult offspring. While active toxoplasmosis infection is known to adversely affect fetal brain development, this is the first suggestion of a possible association between an elevated maternal antibody to toxoplasmosis and the risk of schizophrenia. Study author Alan Brown, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said the research underscored how exposure to maternal infectious diseases affects the development of adult disorders over time.

Brown added that the risk of schizophrenia disorders in the general population was about one percent and that the high toxoplasma antibody would add another one to two percent to this risk. "While it's as good an idea as ever to wash hands before eating and to cook meat thoroughly, these studies are too preliminary to lead to new public health recommendations," he said.

"Evidence from this and previous studies leads us to consider that the increased risk for schizophrenia may not stem from exposure to a specific infectious disease, but from a mechanism secondary to infection, such as inflammation," concluded co-researcher Ezra Susser, of the Mailman School of Public Health.

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