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Can You Get Brain Cancer From A Cat?

Every year, cats in the U.S. deposit about 1.2 million metric tons of feces. A vast and underappreciated health danger may lurk in that cat poop, say scientists in the journal Trends in Parasitology.

The problem is that the poop carries an infectious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a protozoa that recently caused a toxoplasmosis epidemic in otherwise healthy people, not just in pregnant women or people with immune deficiencies.

And research now links T. gondii to schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, brain cancer and even to kids’ trouble in school.

“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,” said E. Fuller Torrey, who directs the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

Cat owners don’t need to worry much if their cats stay indoors; cats get infected when they chew on an infected bird, mouse or other small mammal. Then, they spread oocysts around into the soil, grass, water and elsewhere.

But Torrey says if your cat, or neighbor’s cats, spend time outside, take care with litter boxes, keep sandboxes covered and wear gloves when gardening. After working in the garden, the dirt under your fingernails could harbor up to 100 T. gondii oocysts. (It takes only one to start an infection.)

Torrey and coauthor Robert Yolken of Johns Hopkins University Medical Center recommend extra care with young children, who may be at the greatest risk. But, at this point, there are still many unknowns.