Cat Parasites In Pet’s Feces Can Be Ingested Or Inhaled And Pose Bigger Public Health Threat Than Previously Thought [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 10, 2013 10:56 AM EDT

cat parasites
Cat parasites found in cat poop can be inhaled or ingested. The invasion of cat parasites is more widespread than previously believed. (Photo: Reuters)

Cat parasites, present in the feces of our furry feline friends, are invading our gardens, sandboxes and playgrounds, and are more widespread than researchers previously thought. Live Science reports that the number of domesticated cats in the U.S. rose from 55 million in 1989 to 80 million in 2006. What do we get with more cats? More cat poop -- 2.6 billion pounds of it, apparently -- and, unfortunately, more cat parasites.

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A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Maryland says that dangerous cat parasites are everywhere. Gardens, children's sandboxes, playgrounds and kitty litter boxes -- these are all havens for cat parasites, because these are places cats defecate.

Researchers analyzed soil samples from China, California, Panama, Brazil and Poland. They found that just one square foot of soil can contain up to 434 cat parasite eggs, called oocysts. According to scientists, it takes just one oocyst to cause a full-blown infection. Considering that the dirt under a gardener's fingernail could be home to some 100 oocysts, cat parasites can quickly spread from the soil to human food and drink.

"It may be a much bigger problem than we realize," Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist from the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chase, Md., told NBC News. "It should give you pause before you put your child in a public sandbox."

One of the most deleterious cat parasite is the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, a single-celled organism that lodges itself in the human brain and can control our actions. IScience Times reported that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, or Toxo for short, can burrow in the human brain and cause a person to exhibit schizophrenic symptoms.

The most common way our pets get infected with cat parasites is by eating animals like birds or mice that already have parasites. They then pass the parasites on to people.

Humans can become infected with cat parasites through a number of avenues. For one, if cat poop gets into drinking water, people can accidently swallow bits of contaminated feces. Cat parasites can also enter the body when people inhale air contaminated with dried particles of kitty poop. Feline excrement can soil food sources as well. If raw meat is not cooked properly, cat parasites can find their way into the human digestive tract.

What's the best way to combat cat parasites, without getting rid of our furry friends? Wear gloves when handling cat feces, properly dispose of cat poop by taking it to a proper landfill, and always wash your hands after handling kitty litter.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Read more from iScience Times:

Parasite In Brain? Mind Control Bug Affects 40% Of Population

'Worm Therapy': Could Swallowing Live Parasites Help Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Parasite Causes Suicide In Humans

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