How global warming and mind-eating parasites are creating a global intelligence gap

For an affluent Western country, the United States has an usually high proportion of its people living in warm-to-tropical climates, which are breeding grounds for parasites.

How global warming and mind-eating parasites are creating a global intelligence gap

Schistosomiasis and toxoplasmosis may sound like something you would pick up in a developing country, but the reality is that more and more so-called "third world" parasites are becoming endemic to the United States. Already, some 60 million people — that’s right 60 million — are infected with toxoplasma gondii or, as it's more fondly known as, the “cat poop parasite.”


But don’t freak out about your pet just yet — it could be worse, and by worse I mean having a tapeworm eat your brain. There have been at least 2,000 cases of neurocysticercosis in the U.S. and 5 million or more cases worldwide, which cause epileptic-like symptoms when this normally gut-eating parasite takes up residence in the cerebrum. There’s also Chagas disease, most commonly found in Latin America, which affects the cardiovascular system and can lead to heart failure. In 2007, U.S. blood banks began screening for the disease and found alarmingly high rates among poor communities in Florida and Texas.

Not only are parasites a public health concern, but also they take an untold toll on human intelligence.

So why are parasites flourishing in the U.S.? For an affluent Western country, the United States has an unusually high proportion of its people living in warm-to-tropical climates, which are breeding grounds for parasites. Moreover, as global warming continues, these parasites find more areas that are amenable to their proliferation. In addition, there is relatively low public awareness about the likelihood of contracting such parasites — malaria happens only in Africa, right?

If parasites aren’t reined in effectively, they not only threaten public health, but also could reduce human capital.

Not only are parasites a public health concern, but also they take an untold toll on human intelligence. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found ACTV-1, a chlorovirus, in two out of every five subjects. Normally found in algae, the pathogen somehow made a rapid evolutionary leap from infecting plant matter to humans and the cost was diminished cognition in those participants who were infected. According to The American Scholar, “When compared with those who did not harbor the virus, those infected were about 10 percent slower to make calculations and had a reduced attention span, suggesting that the virus compromised their ability to calculate, to focus, and to process visual information — disadvantages in the classroom, on the job, and in other familiar learning situations.”

These findings are disturbing on many levels and further reinforce the need for greater access to health care, especially for the nation’s poorest. If parasites aren’t reined in effectively, they not only threaten public health, but also could reduce human capital.

--

Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.

Photo courtesy of iStock

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Keep reading Show less

Are lab–grown embryos and human hybrids ethical?

This spring, a U.S. and Chinese team announced that it had successfully grown, for the first time, embryos that included both human and monkey cells.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
In Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel “Brave New World," people aren't born from a mother's womb. Instead, embryos are grown in artificial wombs until they are brought into the world, a process called ectogenesis.
Keep reading Show less

A big lesson from the ‘Oumuamua alienware controversy

Scientists should be cautious when expressing an opinion based on little more than speculation.

Artist's impression of ʻOumuamua

Credit: European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser
13-8
  • In October 2017, a strange celestial object was detected, soon to be declared our first recognized interstellar visitor.
  • The press exploded when a leading Harvard astronomer suggested the object to have been engineered by an alien civilization.
  • This is an extraordinary conclusion that was based on a faulty line of scientific reasoning. Ruling out competing hypotheses doesn't make your hypothesis right.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Asteroid impact: NASA simulation shows we are sitting ducks

Even with six months' notice, we can't stop an incoming asteroid.

Quantcast