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Friday, September 30, 2005 

Study reinforces link between Chlamydia and schizophrenia

Could mental illness be infectious?

Now comes the surprising finding by a German research team that chlamydia may be linked with schizophrenia. Dr Rudolf Wank, an immunologist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, has reported recently that schizophrenic patients are much more likely to be infected with one or more variants of chlamydia. More importantly, he found that targeting the bug with specially treated immune cells improved the patients’ symptoms dramatically.

About 40 per cent of the 75 patients he studied were infected with chlamydia, compared with 6 per cent in the control group (ie, people who did not have schizophrenia). As Dr Wank explains: “Chlamydia comes in three varieties, two of which can cause a flu-like respiratory infection or pneumonia, while the third causes the sexually transmitted disease. The patients were much more likely to have one or more of these.” The team also found that the risk of developing schizophrenia rose dramatically for patients with a certain group of immune system genes.


I don't think many of us who've been paying attention to the infectious/"chronic" disease link for many years would say these findings are "surprising," but they do indeed confirm what other preliminary studies have shown: that infectious agents can play a role in a variety of non-acute diseases, including mental disease (schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, PANDAS), cancer, heart disease, obesity, and autoimmune diseases, among others. (See also this blog entry.) One thing that hasn't often been seen, as mentioned, is reduction in the illness due to antibiotic treatment. In many cases, by the time symptoms of the "chronic" disease emerge, it's too late for antibiotic use--too much damage has been done, and in many cases, the host's immune system has already cleared the organism. It will be interesting to see if this study can be repeated in a larger population.

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About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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