Washington: A seemingly harmless bug may be priming suicide bids by causing subtle changes in the brain.
New research adds to the growing work linking an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite to suicide attempts, according to Michigan State University’s Lena Brundin.
About 10-20 percent of people in the United States have T. gondii in their bodies, but in most it was thought to lie dormant, said Brundin, associate professor of experimental psychiatry at Michigan, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports.
In fact, it appears the parasite can cause inflammation over time, which produces harmful metabolites that can damage brain cells, according to a Michigan statement.
“Previous research has found signs of inflammation in the brains of suicide victims and people battling depression, and there also are previous reports linking T. gondii to suicide attempts,” she said.
“In our study, we found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to attempt suicide.”
The work by Brundin and colleagues is the first to measure scores on a suicide assessment scale from people infected with the parasite, some of whom had attempted suicide.
The results found those infected with T. gondii scored significantly higher on the scale, indicative of a more severe disease and greater risk for future suicide attempts.
However, Brundin stresses the majority of those infected with the parasite will not attempt suicide.
“Some individuals may for some reason be more susceptible to develop symptoms,” she said.