The Hidden Dangers of Cat Poop

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The Hidden Dangers of Cat Poop

You might not realize just how dangerous cat poop might be. The danger is not from the cat feces itself but from a nasty parasite that is contained in the cat litter. The parasite is called Toxoplasma Gondii and it is responsible for Toxoplasmosis which can be a major problem for pregnant women and people that have problems with their immune system.

The problem is so widespread that most backyards and gardens will have oocysts active in them and it only takes a single oocyst to get infected. The widespread feral cat population and the wandering nature of outdoor pet cats mean that infected cat poop is spread widely. Using protection when digging in the garden is highly recommended and taking precautions when disposing of cat litter is also advised.

Every year, 1.2 metric tons of cat feces are deposited in the US, raising the risk of infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, researchers from the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Johns Hopkins University Medical Center reported in Trends in Parasitology (July 10th, 2013 issue).

“Some cat feces are contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan known to cause toxoplasmosis epidemics in healthy individuals, not just patients with weakened immune systems and pregnant mothers.

Co-author, E. Fuller Torrey, said: “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.”

Torrey said authorities need to gain better control of cat populations, especially feral cats. He also called for more research.

American backyards and communities contain between 3 and 400 oocysts per square feet. Just one single Toxoplasma gondii oocyst can infect a human.
There are between 25 and 60 million
feral cats in the USA

Cats become infected when they catch infected mice, birds and other small mammals. The infected cat then spreads oocysts through its feces in soil, water, grass, etc.

If you have a pet cat, no mice or rats in your home and your pet stays indoors all the time, you have nothing to worry about, Torrey said. If it does spend time outdoors, be extremely careful with litter boxes, makes sure sandboxes are covered, and wear gloves when you are gardening.

Torrey quoted one study showing that 100 T. gondii oocysts may be found under your fingernails.

Co-author Robert Yolken says parents, teachers and guardians need to be extra careful with young children.

Should we get tested? – Torrey says: “No, except perhaps in the case of pregnant women. Fifteen percent of us have antibodies, including me.” Somebody may test positive one day and negative the next.

Toxoplasmosis prevention in newborns inadequate in USA – American babies born with toxoplasmosis have significantly higher rates of eye and brain damage compared to infants in Europe, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine reported in Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the common Toxoplasma gondii parasite.

Signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis are usually “flu-like” and may include

The majority of infected people will have no signs or symptoms at all.

For people with weakened immune systems, such as patients with cancer, AIDS, or transplant organ recipients on immunosuppressive medications, signs and symptoms may include the same as those listed above, plus:

  • Confusion
  • Coordination problems
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Tuberculosis-like complications
  • Ocular toxoplasmosis – severe inflammation of the retina

Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy

If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Toxoplasma gondii, there is a 30% chance that the developing fetus will also become infected (congenital toxoplasmosis), even if the mother has no symptoms.

The pregnant mother is more likely to pass on the infection during the third trimester. However, the risk of more serious outcomes is greater earlier on during the pregnancy.

The following risks and complications are possible if the pregnant mother becomes infected with Toxoplasma gondii:

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth
  • The baby may suffer from seizures
  • The newborn will have jaundice
  • The infant may have serious eye infections
  • The newborn may have brain damage
  • The baby’s liver and spleen may be enlarged
  • Most complications appear when the child is a teenager or later, and may include:- deafness
    – recurrent and serious eye infections
    rheumatoid arthritis
    – brain cancer
    – mental problems, including schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and problems in school

Cat population explosion worldwide

As background information, Torry and Yolken informed that between 1989 and 2006 in the US, cat ownership rose by about 50%, from 54.6 million to 81.7 million. However, during the same period, the country’s human population grew by only 23%. There are also between 25 and 60 million feral cats in the US.

In the UK, cat ownership rose from 4.5 million in 1990 to 8 million in 2009. Cat ownership has increased all over the world, especially in China and Latin America.

Some cat owners are very close to their pets. Torrey quoted one study showing that 62% of cats sleep with their adult owners and another 13% slept with children.

Written by Christian Norqvist”

There has certainly been a huge increase in cat ownership and in feral cat populations. The information that cats that are kept indoors are not at risk of contracting or spreading the parasite is welcome news for those of us that like to keep our pets away from native wildlife.

Even keeping your own cats indoors doesn’t prevent other cats coming into your garden, play areas and sand boxes and depositing their infected cat feces. So taking precaution so that roaming cats are kept away from these areas or using protection like gloves when working in gardens will help you stay clear of this cat poop infesting parasite.

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