Market News

 July 10, 2013
Harmful Parasites In Cat Poop Are Widespread

 That cat poop can pose a health risk to humans no longer surprises us.

Some cats carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Infected cats shed embryonic T. gondii, called oocysts, in their feces.

These oocysts are easily transmitted to humans, and researchers have explored their possible link to various mental health problems, including schizophrenia.
More recently, studies of school-age children show a correlation between testing positive for T. gondii and having difficulty in school.

The parasites can cause more acute health problems in newborns and people with weak immune systems, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out.

Now a review published in Trends in Parasitology explores how substantial a public health threat the parasite poses in the United States. One thing's pretty clear: There are a lot of oocysts out there.

Research psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Robert Yolken, who have spent years investigating the role that animals play in the spread of infectious diseases, co-authored the roundup.

Shots spoke with Torrey, who says there are four factors that he believes makes this a valid health concern:

The cat population is growing.

Every day about 1 million cats in the U.S. are actively pooping out as many as 50 million oocysts apiece.

The oocycts are hard to kill.

There is a well-documented correlation between mental illness and testing positive for T. gondii antibodies.

"This is a public health problem that bears more scrutiny," Torrey says. "We're walking a tight line between alarming people and failing to point out obvious health problems that need to be paid attention to."

Correlation isn't the same as causation, however, particularly when it comes to the area of mental health. "The association has been discussed, but it has not been completely accepted by everyone," Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News. "If people were convinced of that, we would have acted on it."