Every year, 1.2 metric tons of cat feces are deposited in the US, raising the risk of infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, researchers from the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Johns Hopkins University Medical Center reported in Trends in Parasitology (July 10th, 2013 issue).

Some cat feces are contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan known to cause toxoplasmosis epidemics in healthy individuals, not just patients with weakened immune systems and pregnant mothers.

Co-author, E. Fuller Torrey, said: “The accumulation of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, found in cat feces, may be a much bigger problem than we realize because of their apparent long life and their association with some diseases.”

Torrey said authorities need to gain better control of cat populations, especially feral cats. He also called for more research.

American backyards and communities contain between 3 and 400 oocysts per square feet. Just one single Toxoplasma gondii oocyst can infect a human.
Cats on Beach
There are between 25 and 60 million
feral cats in the USA

Cats become infected when they catch infected mice, birds and other small mammals. The infected cat then spreads oocysts through its feces in soil, water, grass, etc.

If you have a pet cat, no mice or rats in your home and your pet stays indoors all the time, you have nothing to worry about, Torrey said. If it does spend time outdoors, be extremely careful with litter boxes, makes sure sandboxes are covered, and wear gloves when you are gardening.

Torrey quoted one study showing that 100 T. gondii oocysts may be found under your fingernails.

Co-author Robert Yolken says parents, teachers and guardians need to be extra careful with young children.

Should we get tested? – Torrey says: “No, except perhaps in the case of pregnant women. Fifteen percent of us have antibodies, including me.” Somebody may test positive one day and negative the next.

Toxoplasmosis prevention in newborns inadequate in USA – American babies born with toxoplasmosis have significantly higher rates of eye and brain damage compared to infants in Europe, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine reported in Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.