Parasites and pathogens are pretty terrifying things. Immune systems serve to mount a defense against these elusive little creatures. This is, in fact, how sexes came to be, as a means to mix the genes necessary to stir up the genetic pot, creating more stout and powerful immune systems as various microscopic invaders adapted to override the host’s bodily defenses.
This evolutionary arms race has been a battle between predators and prey of all sizes and on all scales to come up with the most effective way to survive and procreate. Whenever one side gets stronger, the other adapts and comes up with a new, clever way to beguile its foe and succeeds for a while—until it’s inevitably outdone again. This has also happened with many plagues, like the bubonic plague, throughout the long path of history.
These days, parasites and pathogens have developed some pretty interesting ways to procreate and/or move on to the next stage of their life cycle—including hijacking the minds of their hosts. These bodily invaders control their hosts’ behavior, forcing them subtly into actions which will result in an opportunity for them to spread or reproduce. Here are ten parasites and pathogens which control the minds of humans.
1. Trypanosoma Brucei
Trypanosoma brucei is a species of protozoa. It is a blood parasite that infects a slew of animals and occasionally humans, too. Its life cycle is rather long, starting off in tsetse flies, which bite humans. Then it enters into the human’s lymphatic system, and from there, it transfers into the bloodstream.
An infection from this parasite can cause sleeping sickness, which can harm both animals and people and comes in two separate stages of symptoms. The early onset of the infection comes on like many other diseases, with joint pain, muscle pain, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, while the second stage causes behavioral changes and extreme lethargy as the parasite begins to attack the spine and brain. Ultimately, T. brucei can kill you.
It should be noted here that the goal of many of these bloodstream parasites seems to be to render its host compromised without killing it. A dead host isn’t as likely to spread the parasite and help complete the life cycle, so rather than killing indiscriminately, it’s advantageous for a parasite to simply weaken its host, making it the potential prey of other animals which are necessary for the parasite to reproduce.