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Cat lovers everywhere are covering their ears so that they do not have to hear the bad news. According to more research on Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that can be contracted through cats, it can actually have adverse effects on humans. However, T. gondii should not keep people away from domestic cats.
It has been known that being near cats is not good for pregnant women, because toxoplasmosis, the condition caused by the parasite, can lead to miscarriages or issues with fetal development. However, it was widely believed that the parasite does not typically have negative effects otherwise. Recently, research has been showing that the parasite is associated with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, there are a few reasons as to why people do not necessarily have to stay away from cats because of Toxoplasma gondii.
First off, the parasite reproduces in digestive systems. If cat’s litter boxes are cleaned regularly and handled with care, the risk of picking up the parasite should decrease. Cats who stay indoors are less likely to carry the parasite. The parasite can also be spread through contaminated food and water, and even meat that has not been sufficiently cooked. The Stanley Medical Research Institute found that 50 percent of families with children that later developed a mental illness had cats in their homes, against 42 percent in the control group. This finding links cat ownership to mental illnesses, not toxoplasmosis. However, if it is not necessarily toxoplasmosis that causes mental illness in the research, than it is not necessarily cat ownership either. These groups averaged, 42 percent and 50 percent, which are very close calculations.
It is important to remember that a number of people can come in contact with Toxoplasma gondii, but not be affected by it. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 60 million people in the U.S. could be carrying the parasite right now. It could be contracted from cats, or from undercooked meat. Therefore, it is possible that people who develop mental disorders happen to have the virus in their system. Although it is true that a study published in Schizophrenia Bulletin shows that a person who has T. gondii is twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. However, scientists discover this data after the patient has been diagnosed. That is why it is important to remember that correlation is not causation!
If Toxoplasma gondii was an issue that had frequent effects on cat owners, than the CDC would call for more serious measures against adopting cats, but it has not. Ultimately, T. gondii itself has not been confirmed to be the cause of mental illnesses, and neither has cat ownership. If a person is allowed to adopt a cat, than that person has to be mature enough to understand that cat feces should not be handled without caution! If people are smarter about the choices they make with their hygiene and their contact with contaminated food, than they can avoid the parasite altogether! Therefore, Toxoplasma gondii should not keep people away from cats.
By Tania Dawood
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