Concerns Raised About Cat-Carried Parasite Affecting 1 in 5 Americans

NEW YORK, September 6, 2012 – A new report released by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food in the United Kingdom recommends more research while confirming information about a disease the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider a “major neglected parasitic infection.”

According to the CDC, toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects cats and causes toxoplasmosis, has infected 22.5 percent of the human population in the United States. The CDC lists toxoplasmosis as one of the leading causes of human death attributed to food-borne illness in the United States.

While the disease often has no symptoms, it can also cause serious illness and even death to people with an immunodeficiency like newborns, people undergoing chemotherapy and AIDS patients, the CDC says.

The domesticated cat is the only known definitive host of the parasite, while other animals and even humans can be intermediate hosts of the parasite. Until recently, it was believed that most transmission occurred from undercooked meat, but new studies are suggesting far more environmental contamination from cat feces is occurring than was originally understood.

Alarming as this new information is, there are some simple steps that can be taken to avoid becoming infected.

“While this information can be frightening, we want people to know the spread of this dangerous disease can be prevented,” said Dr. Neil Shaw, chief medical officer of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a group of specialty and emergency veterinary hospitals. “The most important thing a person can do is be responsible and that means taking proper sanitary precautions if you own a pet.”

BluePearl Veterinary Partners recommends the following precautions:

  • Clean the litter box at least once every 24 hours.
  • Pregnant women or people who are immune deficient should avoid cleaning the litter box. If they must, they should wear proper protective equipment like gloves and a mask.
  • Wash hands after cleaning the litter box or handling pets.
  • Maintain regular visits with your veterinarian. BluePearl recommends taking your pet to your family veterinarian twice a year for checkups.
  • If you think your cat may be infected with toxoplasmosis, contact your family veterinarian. A blood test can be performed and antibiotics can be given.