Do cats cause schizophrenia? - an interview with E. Fuller Torrey
Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia?
by Stephen Mihm
The New York Times Magazine on the Web
"I THINK CATS ARE GREAT," says E. Fuller Torrey. His office decor would seem to confirm this statement: A cat poster hangs on one wall; a cat calendar sits on his desk; and a framed picture of a friend's cat leans against the windowsill. He even admits to having a "cat library" at home. But Torrey's interest in felines is a bit different from that of your typical cat lover. That's because Torrey, a psychiatry professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Science and the enfant terrible of mental health research, believes that Felis domestica may carry infectious diseases that could cause schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. "My wife thinks I'm going to be assassinated by cat owners," says Torrey with a sigh. "In fact, I like cats. Unfortunately, if we are correct that they transmit infections..." Here his voice trails off, and he pensively fingers his closely cropped beard.
Torrey often speaks in a self-deprecating manner of his "delusional" notions, but he's dead serious about the cat connection. He thinks "typhoid tabbies" are passing along Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes brain lesions and, if Torrey is right, schizophrenia. Torrey first made the argument nearly thirty years ago. "It was considered psychotic," he admits. But since then, his ideas, though still outside the mainstream, have attracted converts, most notably the Johns Hopkins virologist Robert Yolken, with whom he now collaborates. Together, they're trying to prove that toxoplasmosis is but one of several infectious diseases that cause most cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It helps their case that previous explanations -- bad mothering, bad genes -- have proven deficient to varying degrees. But Torrey and Yolken have also uncovered some hard evidence to support their claims, and they are about to put their theory to the test with clinical trials of drugs that are new to the psychopharmacological arsenal: antibiotics and antivirals similar to those used by AIDS patients. If the duo finds that such drugs alter the course of schizophrenia, Yolken observes, their results "would represent a major advance in the treatment of this devastating disease as well as in understanding its basic etiology."
"SCHIZOPHRENIA is a cruel disease," Torrey has written, with considerable understatement. Although it affects only 1 percent of the population, schizophrenia is among the most debilitating forms of mental illness. Trapped in a world of private delusions, a schizophrenic might cling, for example, to the belief that he is Jesus Christ, or that the government has implanted a monitoring device in his mouth during a routine dental procedure. Visual and auditory hallucinations can range from the terrifying to the merely strange: gigantic spiders, voices that insult or instruct. Some schizophrenics withdraw, becoming mute or catatonic; others remain communicative but incoherent, jumping from one topic to another without logical connections."
More on Torrey here:
Parasite mind control
Torrey bio with legal center links
Treatment Advocacy Center (Psychlaws)
Treatment Advocacy Center Blog
Wikipedia on Torrey
PDF - Biederman deposition includes information on the Stanley Foundation, source of Torrey's funding
Torrey, Stanley Institute linked to illegal theft, resale of 99 brains
Treating the 29 KNOWN and PROVEN causes of schizophrenia instead of chasing a theory would help a lot of sick people.
It wouldn't fund research, help keep jobs or sell drugs. But a theory that cats are behind madness apparently does... and to quote Torrey, though in a different context, "that is a definition of insanity".