The diagnosis of schizophrenia has been baffling for physicians and researchers for a long time. The relatively subjective nature of the diagnosis coupled with a lack of any biological markers to support the diagnosis of schizophrenia as is true with all of the psychiatric diagnoses has lead the Citizens Commission on Human Rights to raise serious questions about the legitimacy of the label itself. Nevertheless, diagnoses of schizophrenia are continuing to be made daily by psychiatrists. Penn News reported on Oct. 29, 2014 a new study has pointed to an association between Toxoplasma gondii infection and the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
The increasing risk of a diagnosis of schizophrenia has been blamed on many factors both genetic and environmental. A family history of schizophrenia has been widely accepted as an increased risk factor by psychiatrists. The association with infections with Toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite transmitted by soil, undercooked meat and cat feces, is still being viewed with a great deal of skepticism.
Gary Smith, a professor of population biology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, has used epidemiological modeling methods to determine the proportion of schizophrenia cases which may be attributable to Toxoplasma gondii infection. Smith’s work has suggested that approximately one-fifth of cases may involve this parasite.
This presents us with a compelling problem since in the United States over a fifth of the population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii. Smith has pointed out that in some countries the prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii infection is a great deal higher than in the U.S. and there is also a higher incidence of the diagnosis of schizophrenia in these countries.
Whether or not the actual reasons for disability are a real disease process or stigmatization which is associated with the label of mental illness this is very costly. Many people labelled with schizophrenia are not able to work. The label of schizophrenia itself has been estimated to be responsible for $50 to $60 billion in health-care expenditures in the United States every year.
This study has been published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine. The evidence has been increasing that infection with Toxoplasma gondii is associated with an increased risk of a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This is a common parasite of people, cats and rodents. The consideration that infection with Toxoplasma gondii is associated with an increased incidence of such a catastrophic label as schizophrenia is compelling enough to demand further research into this association and investments into how to best cope with this very serious problem.