By Brett Spiegel
They may have been worshiped as gods in ancient Egypt, but in today's modern world, cats, and more specifically their poop, may just be another culprit of parasitic disease transmission, an issue that scientists now identify as an ever-growing public health concern, according to new research published today in Trends in Parasitology.
Furry felines are responsible for more than one million tons of excrement released into the environment annually, and that's just in the U.S., say researchers at The Stanley Medical Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.
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Such feces is known to carry the highly infectious Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) -- a culpable parasite that breeds epidemics of toxoplasmosis that can cause schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, and brain cancer among pregnant women, immune-deficent people, and even generally healthy individuals. It could also impact academic performance in children.
"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 lead researcher E. Fuller Torrey, MD, director of The Stanley Medical Research Institute, in a press release.
Cats usually contract the parasite as a result of hunting and eating contaminated birds, mice, or other rodents, spreading the parasite further via soil, grass, and water with which they come in contact. Indoor cats have a reduced risk of contracting T. gondii, Dr. Torrey said, but owners should still take extra precaution when cleaning litter boxes. They should also cover sandboxes and wear gloves when gardening as the parasite can live under fingernails.
Torrey also believes cat owners should heighten their awareness of where their cats are pooping, like backyards and community parks, since younger kids are most susceptible to parasitic infection. Additionally, increased control of strays and wild cats is a major necessity.
"Cat Poop: Home to Life-Threatening Parasites" originally appeared on Everyday Health.