Want a boy? Change the kitty litter

A parasite found in cat feces could affect your baby's gender.

Published March 13, 2007 5:44AM (EDT)

Well, this is fascinating and also gross: Does anyone remember reports from a while back suggesting that there might be a link between cat feces and schizophrenia? (More specifically, there's a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, sometimes found in cat feces, that can affect the brain.)

I certainly do. But it turns out that there might be more to the story. Discover magazine just reported that this same parasite -- which may exist, harmlessly, in up to 60 million Americans -- may be having an effect on our gender ratios.

A parasitologist (yes, that's his title) in Prague, Czech Republic, studied the clinical records of 1,800 babies born from 1996 till 2004 and discovered that whereas the normal male to female ratio is 104 boys for every 100 girls, women who hosted the parasite gave birth to 260 boys for every 100 girls.

The parasitologist in question, Jaroslav Flegr, isn't quite sure why this would happen -- he hypothesizes that it might have something to do with the parasite's effect on people's immune systems. He also points out that this study has been rejected by eight journals, "usually without any formal review," which he thinks might be because "people don't like the possibility that their behavior and life are manipulated by a parasite."

Personally, I, too, don't particularly like the possibility that my life is being manipulated by a parasite. I also don't like cats. Yet another reason, it seems, to avoid the litter box.*

*And raw meat -- apparently you can also get it from raw meat.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Love And Sex