In past articles I’ve accused Batman of contracting rabies. And more recently I’ve accused Dracula, specifically Nosferatu, of being less immortal preternatural stalked of the night, and more victim of neurosyphilis, dying alone and confused in his mansion.
In my one-man war against comic and movie characters, proving that statistically their only super-power is playing host to a variety of parasites and pathogens, I came across Catwoman.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Catwoman is the latex-clad sex object of the Batman franchise. Her character concept is unique, in that comic writers took a crazy old cat lady, reverse aged her thirty years, and put her in a skintight bodysuit.
Also she’s a cat burglar. Probably. Just look at those cantaloupes she’s smuggling.
Over the years there have been many, many iterations of Catwoman. She’s been pictured as a whip-wielding dominatrix, a slinky spy, a femme fatale, a stalwart companion to Bruce Wayne, and a laughingstock.
But in every version of Catwoman, be it the movies, the animated series, the comics, or the original television show, Catwoman has always loved her some cats. And you know who else is fond of cats? The protozoan toxoplasma gondii. AKA the parasitic infection known as Toxoplasmosis.
T. Gondii is an infectious parasite that can cross-species contaminate, and has recently proven capable of altering its mid-stage host’s ability to reason and function. Such as; the ability to cue a rat’s brain to hang out in the middle of the room, where a cat can eat it. Or to enjoy the smell of cat urine…so a cat can eat it. Pretty much anything that leads the rat to re-introduce Toxoplasmosis into the digestive track of its final home (the feline).
Also, good news for Toxoplasmosis (not so much for us) the parasite can transfer to humans. Its ability to change our behavior to suite the parasite’s needs is still up for debate. But if recent studies can be trusted it seems that T. Gondii may influence women to be bigger risk-takers, even to the point of increasing attempted suicides in infected women, or possibly causing them to show more outgoing extrovert behaviors.
Extrovert. Risk-taking to the point of suicidal. Sound like anyone?
T. Gondii, contracted by raw meat or being around feline feces, is also exceedingly common. Or, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention puts it:
“More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.”
Good thing Catwoman isn’t around cats very often… oh.
So yah, just over one in five Americans is carrying the parasite. In warm-climate countries where the parasite spreads easiest, that number shoots up to nineteen in twenty people (95%). Not to worry though, Toxoplasmosis is a silent, opportunistic killer, which means it will only damage your brain if your immune system is compromised. The drawback is that DC Comics likes to hand out life-threatening illnesses and injuries like they’re candy in order to boost sales.
More good news is that Toxoplasmosis is usually spread from food-to-human or animal-to-human. Sexually transmitted kitty parasites (the scientific term) can only be achieved in very rare cases by blood-to-blood transmission.
So sure, Catwoman’s life is a ticking time-bomb of brain bugs waiting to erode her skull. But at least the disease is contained. Now all she has to worry about is contracting rabies from Batman, or passing on toxoplasma gondii to an unborn child if she ever got pregnant, which would be super dangerous and life-threatening to kid’s nervous system. Good thing Catwoman has never spawned a litter, right?
Pictured: T. Gondii carrier and her newborn daughter. AKA Catwoman and Huntress.