Deadly critters or just misunderstood moggies?

Smokey - (c)VETtalk TVEvery so often a new report hits the headlines about the link between cats and a rather nasty disease called Toxoplasmosis. 

The latest one, published in August 2012 goes so far as to say that “men and women infected with a bug that breeds in cats’ stomachs and worms into people’s brains are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than others.

They say that Toxoplasma gondii may tinker with the delicate chemistry of the brain and screening people for it could help identify those at risk of taking their own lives.”

But hold on a minute before you think about tossing the cat out with the bath water because when it comes to ‘scientific reports’ there’s always someone or some other University that has conflicting evidence or at the very least an alternate view.

But first the facts:

Toxoplasma gondii has a complicated life cycle but it can only breed inside cats. The microscopic eggs are passed on in cat faeces, spreading the infection.

The bug can also be picked up from contaminated food. And scientists generally agree that’s the most common way people get Toxoplasmosis.

Incredibly, around a third of the world’s population carry the parasite, with most acquiring it by eating rare or undercooked meat, especially lamb, pork and venison or by ingesting water, soil or anything contaminated by cat faeces.

That’s why pregnant women are advised not to empty cat litter trays because the parasite can be fatal to unborn babies.

Mind you, it’s also very hard to tell if you’ve been infected… with most people not noticing any symptoms at all while others report mild flu-like symptoms.

So – how did the latest scare study come about? Scientists from Michigan State Uni looked for evidence of the bug in the blood of 84 men and women, more than half of whom had tried to commit suicide.

The result – according to Dr Lena Brundin, “We found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to commit suicide.”

Ok. So to be on the generous side with numbers – it would appear that in this study roughly 45-50 people who’d attempted (but failed) to commit suicide had traces of a bug which breeds inside cats but is most commonly transmitted through contaminated/undercooked meat. (see how it gets into the meat later in this report).

But back to the story… 

Britain’s Food Standards Agency claims there are 350,000 new infections in the UK each year, in which 80 per cent of those affected will be unaware they have the parasite; the eggs remaining dormant in their bodies for life.

But, they say, around 20 per cent of infected Britons will need hospital treatment for such as brain inflammation or miscarriage.

As a result of the Michigan University study and the FSA’s reports, some microbiologists are suggesting families with young children should not have cats and that lovers of rare roast lamb should be forced to go the whole hog and cook it until well done, to ensure any Toxoplasma gondii bugs are killed.

By the way, not all cats have it, and even those that do are oblivious to the infection and show no signs of disease. But anywhere an infected cat uses as a toilet will be contaminated. The parasite eggs lurk in grass, flower beds, or soil where they’re picked up by sheep, cattle and pigs, contaminating their meat and entering the food chain.

HOWEVER - don’t give up on Fluffy just yet. The prestigious British Veterinary Association claims all this anti-cat scaremongering is pointless and unnecessary - and that simple, common-sense hygiene can prevent the spread.

The BVA says cat owners should regularly empty and disinfect cat litters, wear gloves when changing litter and wash hands  with soapy, hot water after handling cats. And put a cover on the kids’ sand-pit!

And if like me you grow vegetables and salad greens in your garden and you suspect a neighbour’s cat has been ‘using’ your soil – invest in some poly-pipe and bird-netting to cover the garden – plus if at all possible catch the culprit cat in the act and send it home with a gentle squirt of the hose.

* Final note:
We much prefer research that shows that a cat’s ‘purr’ has healing properties. A 2006 study by Fauna found the frequency of a cat’s purr which is between 25 and 140 Hz actually stimulates bone growth and fracture healing, helps with pain relief and encourages tendon repair and joint mobility.

Good kitties!

You may also like to listen to:
Pregnant?... Get Rid Of The Cat! - True or False?

More Reading : Better Health Victoria
Photo: 'Smokey the Cat'  (c)VETtalk TV

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