July 16, 2013
The Danger In Your Litterbox… Duh?
Last week, redOrbit reported that the parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii is causing a public health problem.
Honestly, I’m wondering what took “them” so long to figure this out. According to the Mayo Clinic, T. gondii is one of the most common parasites in the world. And pregnant women have been told for decades not to touch the cat box, so really? Where’s the big news story?
Okay, let’s be fair. Toxoplasmosis can be extremely dangerous. If you are generally health, you might feel like you have the flu. Most folks have no clue. For babies of infected women, or people with suppressed immune systems, however, things get a little scarier.
For those with weakened immune systems, the Mayo Clinic lists headache, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung complications and severe inflammation of the retina.
For infants, the consequences can be much harsher. The Mayo Clinic reports, “If you become infected for the first time just before or during your pregnancy, you have about a 30 percent chance of passing the infection to your baby (congenital toxoplasmosis), even if you don’t have signs and symptoms yourself.” But, that’s not all.
Mothers who are infected early in the pregnancy have a lesser chance of the infant contracting the disease, but a much higher chance of still birth or miscarriage. If the infant does survive, they are likely to be born with complications such as seizures, enlarges spleen or live, jaundice, and severe eye infections. Children who survive infancy with toxoplasmosis develop other problems later: hearing loss, mental disability, and serious eye infections.
But we’ve know that for a long time. What’s new?
CNN Health reported that, according to the authors of the study, the new information suggests that “individuals with disorders such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis or brain tumors are more likely to have Toxoplasma gondii antibodies than other people. There are also suggestions that Toxoplasma gondii can affect memory and other cognitive function in people who are not otherwise ill. In no way have we established Toxoplasma gondii as a cause of these disorders, but it has led us to rethink the possible risks of cat poop.”
So, although the link hasn’t been completely established, the suggestion is that some mental and physical disorders could be caused by the parasite.
How much danger is there? Well, in the US alone, cats drop about 1.3 TONS of fecal matter into the environment every year. Again in the US, there are an “estimated 82 million owned cats and another 25 million to 60 million feral cats.” And the researchers estimate that approximately 1 percent of cats are infected with T. gondii.
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