July 10, 2013
Parasites Found In Cat Poop May Pose Serious Health Problem
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Cats deposit approximately 1.3 tons of feces into the environment each year in the US alone. As OB/GYN doctors have known for a long time, that poop is carrying a parasite that is harmful to pregnant women. As well, cat litter parasites have been associated with an increased risk in suicide in woman.
A new study, published in Trends in Parasitology, reveals that this may indeed be a vast and under-appreciated public health problem.
Some cat poop is laden with an infectious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. This protozoan has recently caused toxoplasmosis epidemics in otherwise healthy people, not just in pregnant women or people with immune deficiencies. Prior studies have raised additional concerns by linking T. gondii to schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, brain cancer, and even to kids' trouble in school.
"The accumulation of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, found in cat feces, may be a much bigger problem than we realize because of their apparent long life and their association with some diseases," said E. Fuller Torrey, director and founder of the Stanley Medical Research Institute.
Torrey and his team, including Robert Yolken of Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, call for better control of the cat population, especially feral cats. They are also urging for more research, as recent surveys have shown that our backyards and community areas could harbor as many as 300 to 400 oocysts per square foot in places where cats frequently defecate. Each of those oocysts has the potential for causing infection and disease.
Cats generally become infected when they eat a bird, mouse or other small mammal that is infected with the parasite. The cats spread the oocysts into the soil, grass, water and elsewhere with their defecation habits.
If your cats stay indoors, the researchers say there is little reason to worry. If, however, your feline friend spends time outside, take care with the litter boxes as you clean them. Torrey says that if there are outdoor cats in your neighborhood, keep sandboxes covered when not in use, and use gloves when gardening. Estimates show that the dirt under a person's fingernails could host up to 100 T. gondii oocysts.
The team also recommends taking extra care with young children, as they may be at the greatest risk. They acknowledge that there are many unknown aspects still.
These unknowns lead Torrey to say that it is not worth being tested at this point in time, except perhaps in the case of pregnant women. He says that 15 percent of the population have antibodies, including himself, and that someone who tests positive today can test negative at a later date.