WASHINGTON — They’re cute, they’re cuddly and they’re the reigning stars of YouTube, but cats are also carriers of a dangerous parasite.
Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) has been known to cause illness, developmental disorders and even death. And now, researchers have greater evidence to link the cat-carried parasite to mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
A recent study published in Schizophrenia Research examined previous studies and found that childhood cat ownership may be a risk for schizophrenia later in life. A second study, published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, found that an individual infected with T. gondii was almost twice as likely to develop schizophrenia, CBS News reports.
“In schizophrenia, the evidence of an association with T. gondii is overwhelming,” the authors say in a press release. “These findings may give further clues about how T. gondii infection can possibly [alter] the risk of specific psychiatric disorders.”
T. gondii is the most common parasite in developed nations, CBS reports. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 million people in the U.S. have it.
Outdoor cats are more likely to carry T. gondii than indoor cats, according to the report.
Cat owners can protect themselves from the parasite by keeping cats exclusively indoors and covering the litterbox when it’s not in use. CBS reports that it’s also best to change the litter daily, since T. gondii is not infectious until one to five days after it’s shed in feces.
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