What You Need to Know About Toxoplasmosis

The organism calls Toxoplasma gondi does some wacky things. For example, infected mice run toward cats – not away. What’s up with that? Science really doesn’t know why the auto switch in the brain that says "flee for your life" doesn’t turn on in many infected mice.

And some research has suggested that children growing up with infected cats – without being infected themselves, are more likely to suffer mental illness. Seems absurd. Many scientists around the world pointed out each time the research about toxo and people is conducted, it’s been flawed. The studies note children with mental illness are more likely to have a cat than those in the general population. However, there’s never been a cause and effect established.

A new study casts further doubt that is there any connection between cat ownership and an increased risk of psychosis.

"The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," study lead author Francesca Solmi, a researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), said in a statement.

In the new study, the researchers simply analyzed information from nearly 5,000 children who were born in England in 1991 and 1992, and followed them until they were 18 years old. That’s quite a study – few studies even in human medicine have a duration this long. The researchers looked at whether the kids' mothers owned a cat while pregnant, and whether the family owned a cat when the children were four years old and 10 years old.

The researchers also interviewed the children at ages 13 and 18, to assess whether they had experienced psychosis symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations and intrusive thoughts, etc.

There was no link between cat ownership and symptoms of psychosis at ages 13 and 18.

Another strength of the new study is that it followed participants forward in time, whereas some previous studies have asked adults to think back to details about their childhood. The latter method is a far less reliable way of collecting data, because people may not accurately remember such details, or admit to them.

The new study did not directly measure T. gondii exposure, but the researchers say their results suggest that if the parasite does cause psychiatric problems, their study suggests that cat ownership doesn't significantly increase the risk of exposure to the parasite.

And that’s true, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease control, the risk of toxoplasmosis exposure is greatest via gardening or handling uncooked meat.

The real known concern regarding humans and toxoplasmosis is that infection in pregnant women may cause serious harm to the unborn baby, or even death.

A specific series of events must occur in order for any person to contract toxo from a kitty. First, the cat must be infected in the first place, and most cats are not infected with the organism (according one researcher about 75 percent or more are clear). Cats can only pass the disease seven to 14 days their entire lives (when there’s an acute infection and the organism is in what is called the oocyst stage). Indoor cats – which there are more of in the U.S., who have truly never been outside, are exceedingly unlike to carry the organism.

If the cat is shedding the organism (one of those seven to 14 days), all you need to do is to scoop daily. You see, it takes at least a day and typically several days for the virus to become infectious to people.

And the unborn baby can only suffer harm during the first trimester of pregnancy.

To insure absolute safety, scoop wearing gloves or with gloves on take the entire plastic liner with the litter inside and trash it (so feces is never handled). Or, here’s a concept, scooping the box can be the job for that guy who put the woman in her “condition” in the first place. Toxoplasmosis is transmitted through cat feces; it’s not passed to people through the air.

A simple blood test to determine previous exposure in people is handy knowledge because generally, once positive for toxo, most people remain positive for life. And they are immune against a recurrence of infection.

Steve is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the author of several books, including ebooks “Good Cat!” and “Good Dog!” He’s a co-editor of “Decoding Your Dog” (by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists” which Victoria wrote the foreword. He’s the host of several radio shows, including nationally syndicated Steve Dale’s Pet World, and can be heard on WGN Radio, Chicago. He has a long list of TV credits., from Oprah to Animal Planet shows, including his current appearances on “HouseSmarts TV. He serves on several Boards, including Winn Feline Foundation.
His website/blog: www.stevedalepetworld.com.

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is www.stevedale.tv


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