A study has linked Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), or the “cat poop parasite,” to several mental disorders that can affect humans

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June 08, 2015 08:35 PM

Felines, those sweet, furry bundles of cute, could be harboring something serious inside their systems.

Two new studies have linked Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) – also known as the “cat poop parasite” – to increased rates of mental illnesses including schizophrenia among cat owners, reports CBS News.

This poop parasite is found in kitties living in developed countries across the world and can infect any other warm-blooded species. Most humans who come in contact with the parasite don’t develop symptoms, but once infected with T. gondii, flu-like symptoms, blindness and even death are possible.

Now, studies are showing that persistent exposure to the parasite could also be linked to mental illness.

“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,” write study authors E. Fuller Torrey of the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dr. Robert H. Yolken of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This study and another by A.L. Sutterland from the Department of Psychiatry at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam reviewed older studies on T. gondii and its connection to mental disorders, and found people infected with the parasite are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life.

“In schizophrenia, the evidence of an association with T. gondii is overwhelming,” the authors said 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 often passed between cats through infected cat feces and eggs. The parasite can also be found in undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Contact with T. gondii has also been linked to birth defects, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Researchers say there are few simple steps that cat owners can take to prevent coming in contact with T. gondii.

“Children can be protected by keeping their cat exclusively indoors and always covering the sandbox when not in use,” Torrey told CBS News.

Cat owners should also make sure to clean out the litter box daily – since T. gondii doesn’t become infectious until one to five days in feces – and avoid feeding felines raw meat.

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