By Ken Buben, President, FancyScrubs.com
Can an infection in your body change your personality? We read about this today on Boston.com and wondered could an infection really change your personality? Would it be the infection itself, the medicine prescribed to fight the infection or the conditions it causes you? My wife years ago had Lyme disease. Did she become depressed because she could not walk, not be in the sunlight without suffering a migraine and for weeks be confined to bed? Wouldn’t you?
Dr. Robert Bransfield, associate director of psychiatry at the Riverview Medical Center in New Jersey, writes on his Mental Health and Illness website that several thousand studies demonstrate “the association between infections and mental symptoms and at least 65 different microbes have been recognized as causing mental symptoms.”
He adds that he’s treated patients with Lyme disease who’ve developed suicidal behaviors and violent tendencies. As he writes, “Although most patients with Lyme/tick-borne disease do not become violent, a small percent of patients who become infected develop a type of neurological dysfunction that can increase their risk of aggressiveness. In working with a number of patients with Lyme/tick-borne diseases it is apparent to many clinicians these conditions can cause reduced frustration tolerance, irritability, depression, cognitive impairments and mood swings, but more significantly, in a few patients, suicidal and aggressive tendencies.”
What’s not as well established is how exactly infections trigger personality changes. Some microbes can directly attack the central nervous system, penetrating the brain and doing direct damage to brain tissue. Other infections may trigger a prolonged immune system reaction that alters the balance of hormones and brain chemicals that have an effect on our moods.
According to Ben Harder of the Washington Post from June 13 – Scientists have also discovered infections that alter behavior in mammals, including humans. For example, the deadly hantavirus, a distant relative of the tomato spotted wilt virus, causes infected rats to become more aggressive. Rabies, meanwhile, renders its victims crazed and unable to swallow. So rabid bats and canines are more likely to bite and spread the saliva-transmitted virus. In fact, rabies may have provided inspiration for legends of vampires and werewolves. Rabies-infected people don’t tend to bite, but they may foam at the mouth and act belligerently in the infection’s terminal stages.
Cold viruses were recently found to make people friendlier, especially during the period before symptoms appear but when the soon-to-be-sick person is highly infectious to others. Evolutionarily, that helps the virus survive, because a gregarious host is a host who’s likely to spread the illness.
The freakiest of the behavior-warping microbes may be Toxoplasma gondii , the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. If you change cat litter boxes this is a must read, click here.
We have read that antibiotics normally do not cause people to become depressed. Other medications like these can. We think it’s the condition and possibly the infection itself as science is now finding out.