Cats: Harbinger of parasites and schizophrenia

Pregnant women are advised to avoid many things, including alcohol, smoking and even their cat’s litter box (what about the refrigerated ready-to-eat foods?). More than 90% of obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States caution patients about handling cat litter during pregnancy, according to a recent survey.

amy.pregnant.catThe reason? A parasite lurking in the pets’ poop.

Cats can shed a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii in their feces, and if a pregnant woman accidentally inhales or eats the parasite and becomes infected, there are serious health risks. In 20% to 50% of cases (PDF), the fetus also becomes infected.

Only a very small number of cats are estimated to be shedding these parasites at any time — about 1%, by some estimates — but if a woman is infected within her first trimester, it could lead to microcephaly and other birth defects, as well as an increased risk of mental disability and blindness later in the child’s life.

People with weakened immune systems, such as those who have HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy, can develop neurological problems including headaches and seizures from the infection.

jauques.fierce.jun.16Other than the groups who were at greater risk, experts had generally thought toxoplasma, or toxo, was of little consequence. But that view started to change in the past decade as reports claimed that the parasite could influence a person’s behavior and even increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Once a person is infected, toxo lies dormant in their body throughout their life. A recent study found between 10% and 15% of people in the United States to be latently infected with the parasite.

“The consequences of infection with toxo not during pregnancy is all new and not well understood,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist at the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There have been so many new studies into the link between toxo infection and schizophrenia that Torrey created a web page to keep track of them all. “I’m adding studies almost every month,” he said.

In a 2007 review, Torrey found that people with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to have antibodies against the parasite — which indicate that someone has been infected — than healthy people. This increase in risk would mean that the rate of schizophrenia would increase from 1 in 100 in the general adult population in the United States to 2.7 in 100 among people who have a toxo infection.

A large study by Torrey and his colleagues found that adults who had schizophrenia were more likely to have grown up in homes that had cats, compared with healthy controls. Parents of young children may therefore want to be careful about bringing a new cat into the home.

Despite the evidence found to date, it is still not possible to say whether toxo infections cause these illnesses, said William Sullivan, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, microbiology and immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Research has merely suggested that people with psychiatric disorders happen to be more likely to have been exposed to toxo. “Correlation plus correlation plus correlation does not equal causation,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan suspects that toxo is not enough on its own to bring on the illness and that another, as yet unknown, risk factor could also be involved.

A good way to find out whether toxo truly causes mental health disorders and changes in behavior would be to give people with schizophrenia a drug that clears their dormant toxo infection and see whether their symptoms improve, Sullivan said. But no such drug exists.

According to Sullivan, there are other ways to become infected with toxo, including eating raw meat, which can harbor the parasite, and gardening or working with soil, where toxo can survive for several years.

A study by Torrey found that there can be 100 toxo spores, or oocysts, under a gardener’s fingernail. Those with a green thumb can take protective steps, such as wearing gloves and a face mask.

People can also become infected by eating the raw meat of animals harboring the parasite. To prevent this, Sullivan advises that people make sure to cook meat thoroughly or else to freeze the meat before eating it.


Cats eating dead deer behind UK market stall

Officers investigating concerns about the state of a market stall found cats eating a dead deer when they went to inspect the premises.

market.stallHusband and wife, Charles, 78 and Margery Todd, 77, who sold food at markets across the East Riding as well as Leeds, Malton and York, have been banned from running any food business by magistrates, who described the images as “harrowing”.

The Todds, who ran Rosedale Farm Products, Bewholme, Hornsea, will also have to pay almost £15,000 after admitting a string of food safety and hygiene offences.

Beverley Magistrates were told the business had been operating for 48 years and supplied gamebirds, chicken and turkey to the private and commercial sector as well to the public via market stalls.

There were no hand washing facilities or provision for cleaning or washing of preparation tables or equipment.

As the meat had not been stored correctly, some was so decomposed officers were unable to identify what animal it was.

Magistrates were told how the Todds agreed to a voluntary closure order but continued to operate the business.

Mr Todd apologised to customers today saying there was “no defence” from the pictures and saying standards had slipped following two motor accidents which had affected his mobility and led to his being registered disabled.

He said: “I am not going to be bloodyminded. It was a mess. It was a gradual deterioration proportionate to the deterioration of my physical ability.”

Farmers targeting toxo-carrying feral cats in NZ

An Ontario friend arranged for three kittens for me and my daughters about 12 years ago from their local shelter. was a dairy farmer and used to horrify the kids with how he shot stray kitties.

People would randomly abandon cats on his dairy farm, believing cartoons about cats and milk.

He wasn’t going to lose his livelihood to some unwanted cat.

Farmers in New Zealand are doing the same thing.

Feral cats carrying toxoplasmosis are the target of a predator programme that could save Hawke’s Bay farmers in excess of $4.5 million dollars a year.

A monitoring programme testing ewes on six farms, as part of the Cape to City predator programme, has found that up to 30 per cent of sheep carry the disease, which causes a high abortion rate in pregnant ewes.

Three “experimental” farms within the 26,000-hectare Cape to City footprint tested feral cats and mice for toxoplasmosis while three control farms outside of the footprint tested mice only.

Sixty sheep on each farm have also been sample tested to form a baseline across the farms that have been matched in size, stocking density and habitat.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Biosecurity adviser Rod Dickson said the baseline was high but “that was expected” and by reducing feral cats, it is hoped abortion rates will decrease.

braunwynn.kittens.03“Feral cats are one of the main carriers of toxoplasmosis and if we can reduce the numbers of feral cats, we have a good chance of reducing the high abortion rate in ewes.

“This could provide a significant economic benefit for farmers,” he said.

Mr Dickson said toxoplasma is highly prevalent in New Zealand sheep flocks with a recent survey testing 198 ewe flocks revealed 85 per cent of sheep had been exposed to the disease.

Sheep become infected from eating contaminated food such as pasture, concentrate feeds and hay.

Once ingested, the disease spreads to the sheep’s muscles and brain ” and also to the placenta. Shielded from the ewe’s defence system the parasite multiplies rapidly, killing cells as infection spreads.

And my cats? Lucky wasn’t so lucky and didn’t make it out of Guelph. The two black ones had a long life roaming the forest in our Kansas backyard and, brought us gifts every morning.

Mystery E.coli O55 outbreak in UK deepens as cat and owner affected

Beginning Nov. 2014, a cluster of E. coli O55 cases was identified in Dorset followed by another cluster in May 2015: no common source was found.

Now, a new case of E. coli O55 has been identified, along with a case in a pet cat.

e.col.O55To date, 26 cases of E. O55 coli have been confirmed in the county, and it is now believed that pets might be carrying the disease.

Health protection consultant Noëleen McFarland said: “Public Health England would like to reassure the public that the investigation into this unusual strain is ongoing.

“What we now know is that cats and other pets could be spreading this bacteria but they are not the source.

“E.coli is a type of bacteria that is found in the guts of cattle and other ruminants, whilst cats and other pets can act as carriers passing this on to humans in their faeces.”

Both the person and cat affected were from the same household, but however the agency will not reveal the locations of cases, citing patient confidentiality.

No common source has yet been identified for the outbreak, which is only in Dorset.

Who can control cats? Visual audit of food safety hazards present in homes in an urban environment

Research utilizing both survey and observational techniques has found that consumers do not accurately report their own food handling behaviors.

braunwynn.kittens.03The goal of this study was to objectively observe conditions related to food safety risks and sanitation in domestic kitchens in an urban environment. Subjects (n = 100) were recruited from Philadelphia, PA. Homes were visited over a one-year period by two trained researchers using a previously developed audit tool to document conditions related to sanitation, refrigeration, and food storage.

Potential food safety risks identified included evidence of pest infestation (65%), perishable food stored at room temperature (16%), storage of raw meat above ready-to-eat foods (97% of homes where raw meat was present), and a lack of hot running water in the kitchen (3%). Compliance with correct refrigeration practices was also low, with 43% of refrigerator temperatures ≥ 41°F, and only 4% of refrigerators containing a thermometer.

Consumers of minority race/ethnicity were more likely to have evidence of pest infestation in the home, lack a dishwasher and lack a cutting board in the kitchen, while Caucasian consumers were more likely to have an animal present in the kitchen during the audit visit.


My cats are killing me: Toxoplasma linked to mental illness, schizophrenia

People are told moms-to-be shouldn’t be cleaning the cat litter because of the risk of Toxoplasma gondii, so with five daughters, I’ve just gotten used to cleaning the litter.

doug.cats.jun.14Turns out my cats are killing me.

And making my kids crazy.

We used to have a sandbox when the kids were young, but the cats always viewed it as a giant litter box.

So the kids stopped using it.

Toxoplasma gondii is the most common parasite in developed nations, according to Schizophrenia Bulletin. The cat-carried parasite can infect any warm-blooded species, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 60 million people in the U.S. may have it.

Most people never suffer any symptoms at all. But in those with weaker immune systems, infection with T. gondii can cause an illness called toxoplasmosis, which can result in miscarriages, fetal development disorders, weeks of flu-like illness, blindness and even death. It has also been associated with mental disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Now two more studies explore the mental health issues in greater detail.

E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dr. Robert H. Yolken of Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been studying the link between infection with T. gondii and schizophrenia for close to three decades.

sorenne.cats.jul.13Their most recent study, published in Schizophrenia Research, along with researcher Wendy Simmons, compared two previous studies that found a link between childhood cat ownership and the development of schizophrenia later in life with an unpublished survey on mental health from 1982, 10 years before any data on cat ownership and mental illness had been published. Results of the analysis indicated that cat exposure in childhood may be a risk factor for developing mental disorders.

“Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness,” the authors reported in a press release.

In a second recent study, A.L. Sutterland from the Department of Psychiatry at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam and colleagues analyzed the findings of 50 published studies to confirm that T. gondii infection is associated with mental disorders. The research was published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

cats.sink.jun.13“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.”

“Children can be protected by keeping their cat exclusively indoors and always covering the sandbox when not in use,” Torrey told CBS News in an email. The CDC also recommends changing the cat’s litter box daily, since T. gondii does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in feces. In addition, avoid feeding cats raw or undercooked meat.

This is the first time I’ve had exclusively indoor cats (because we live in a townhouse) and they are neurotic beyond belief.

And if I’m crazy, blame my cats.

I post this only because anything cats will increase my blog hits: Our cats, ourselves

Razib Khan writes in The New York Times that it’s commonplace to call our cats “pets.” But anyone sharing a cat’s household can tell you that, much as we might like to choose when they eat in the morning, or when they come inside for the night, cats are only partly domesticated.

lasercatsThe likely ancestors of the domestic dog date from more than 30,000 years ago. But domestic cats’ forebears join us in the skeletal record only about 9,500 years ago. This difference fits our intuition about their comparative degrees of domestication: Dogs want to be “man’s best friend”; cats, not so much.

Domestic cats are not just wildcats that tolerate humans in exchange for regular meals. They have smaller skulls in relation to their bodies compared with wildcats, and are known to congregate in colonies. But in comparison with dogs, cats have a narrower range of variation in size and form.

Wesley C. Warren, an author of the study, notes that domestic cats have excellent hunting skills, like their wild ancestors. This, too, supports the notion that cats are only semi-domesticated.

Comparing the genomes of the wildcat and the domestic cat added much to what we had known. Michael J. Montague, the lead author, told me he’d anticipated that the two genomes would be very similar, but our study found a specific set of differences in genes involved in neuron development. This brain adaptation may explain why domestic cats are docile.