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July 10, 2012

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Zoe Langley

Is the link between parasite infection and suicide valid, and am I understanding the study's data correctly?

The researchers did not study women who had toxoplasma and who killed themselves. The reviewed data collected in a voluntary neonatal screening program between 1992-95. The authors wrote, "In the cohort of 45,788 women, only 18 committed suicide."

From this they state their estimates of "relative risk of suicide" is derived from 8[of the 18] women thought to be positive for the infection. The intensity of a woman's infection was estimated from the data on the level of antibodies in a woman's infant when screened as a newborn.

The current understanding is that toxoplasmosis usually causes no symptoms once established and needs no treatment. There is no doubt the parasite can damage the brain. However, if the majority of women in this study who committed suicide had no toxoplasmosis symptoms how can one predict that their suicides were linked to being infected? How can the conclusion be made from this data that any woman on the planet who has toxoplasmosis has a greater risk of suicide?

If another group of researchers reinterpret the data to look for a link between blue eyes, toxoplasmosis, and suicide, can a case be made linking blue eyes, toxoplasmosis, and suicide risk?

Romeo  Vitelli

Based on my understanding of the study, the researchers examined incidence of both successful and attempted suicides. You would need to read the original study or contact one of the researchers regarding the questions that you raised. The authors admit that their research is preliminary in nature and their study was restricted to women who were included in the neonatal screening database.

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