Infectious Felines

Our furry felines may be the highlight of our day, with those innocent round eyes and that little button nose, but what lies beneath that furry coat? Possibly a parasite, known as Taxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), which may be cultivating in the intestines of our furry friend, CBC News reported.

T. gondii is a single celled parasite that infects people globally, including those in developed nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 60 million people in the United States are carrying the parasite. People become infected after swallowing the parasite, but symptoms are rare, only those with weaker immune systems and pregnant women may become ill.

The T. gondii parasite causes a disease known as taxoplasmosis, which has been linked to multiple mental illnesses, such as: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsion disorder, and addiction. In the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, A.L. Sutterland and colleagues recently published a paper analyzing 50 published studies of the association with the parasite and these illnesses. They also state that people infected with T. gondii are at double the risk of developing schizophrenia than those who were not infected.

“In schizophrenia, the evidence of an association with T. gondii is overwhelming,” the authors say in a press release. “These findings may give further clues about how T. gondii infection can possibly [alter] the risk of specific psychiatric disorders”, CBC News reports.

Fuller Torrey and Dr. Robert H. Yolken study the T. gondii parasite and health, which has been linked to: miscarriages, fetal development disorders, weeks of flu-like illness, blindness, and death. Recently published in Schizophrenia Research, Torrey and Yolken compare childhood cat owners and mental illnesses later in life. Results indicated that our furry friends, carrying T. gondii, may be a high risk factor for developing mental illnesses.

“Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness,” the authors reported in a press release.

This seems like a large price to pay for some friendly cuddles, so how do we keep our cats clean and ourselves parasite free? Keep our feline from roaming the streets, and wash your hands when handling the litterbox. Keep the litterbox clean, nobody likes a dirty bathroom, including the T. gondii parasite as they only become infectious 1 to 5 days after your cat’s bathroom break. Finally, keep to home-cooked meals and avoid feeding those carnivorous felines raw or undercooked meat.

Danielle Marcotte

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