-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) -- Parasites in cat droppings
may pose a potential public health problem, experts warn.
Cats leave about 1.2 million metric tons of feces in the
environment yearly in the United States alone. Some of that waste
contains an infectious parasite called
Toxoplasma gondii, which has recently caused toxoplasmosis
epidemics in otherwise healthy people, not only in pregnant women
or people with weakened immune systems.
Women newly infected during pregnancy can pass the toxoplasmosis
infection to unborn children with possible severe consequences such
as diseases of the eyes and nervous system, according to the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research has also linked
T. gondiito schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
rheumatoid arthritis, brain cancer and even children having trouble
in school, according to the article, which was published in the
July 9 issue of the journal
Trends in Parasitology.
"The accumulation of Toxoplasma gondiioocysts, 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 of the Stanley Medical Research Institute.
Research has shown that backyards and communities may contain
more than 400 oocysts per square foot in places where cats
frequently leave feces, according to a journal news release. Even a
single oocyst can cause an infection.
Cats typically become infected when they eat infected birds,
mice or other small animals. Torrey called for better control of
outdoor cats. There is little need to worry about indoor cats, he
The researchers offered some prevention advice. If your cat or a
neighbor's cat spends time outdoors, take care with litter boxes,
keep sandboxes covered and wear gloves when gardening. Dirt under
your fingernails could contain up to 100
T. gondiioocysts, according to one estimate. Be extra
careful if you have young children.
Other than pregnant women, people shouldn't bother getting
tested, Torrey said. Fifteen percent of people have antibodies and
someone who tests positive at one point can later test
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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