If you are pregnant, make sure your husband is changing your cat’s litter. According to the latest research conducted by a group of Swedish scientist, a common parasite Toxoplasma gondii found in the cat littler can enter the brain and severely affect pregnant women, unborn fetuses and people with weak immune system.
What is toxoplasmosis?
According to the CDC, Toxoplasma gondii is the most common cause of death caused by food-borne disease. Although there are about 60 million Americans carrying this parasite in their system, it is rare that it causes severe reaction, unless your immune system is weak, or you are pregnant. While it normally causes just mild flu-like symptoms, for people with compromised immune system it can be deadly.
Most people get infected by Toxoplasma gondii through poorly cooked meat. Another very common way to get in touch with it is by touching cat feces, by handling a cat litter. This is the reason the parasite is commonly called ‘cat littler parasite’.
How does ‘cat litter parasite’ affect the brain?
People affected by Toxoplasma gondii get the disease called toxoplasmosis. Numerous studies show that the parasite gets into the human brain, causing strange behavior, such as increased risk taking and even higher risk of suicide in new mothers. The disease is associated with a number of mental diseases, particularly schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
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Scientists found that the parasite takes over brain’s dendritic cells, which are considered the gatekeepers of our immune system. Dendritic cells trigger immune responses, but once infected by the toxoplasma parasite, they help its migration through the brain. Dendritic cells infected by the parasite start producing a chemical messenger called GABA, which carries signals through the brain.
One of many roles of GABA is to prevent anxiety and fear, what is the reason why people with toxoplasmosis show unexpected risky behavior. Mice, which can also be infected by this parasite, lose their fear of cats, with expected results. Eaten infected mice increase the population of the parasite in the cat”s system, adding to the way this parasite survives.
While ‘cat litter parasite’ has been with us for thousands of years and our immune system is pretty well adapted to it, the latest research shows that the owners of our 86.4 million domestic cats should be prudent and avoid handling cat littlers if sick of pregnant. Changing the cat littler should be one of the many tasks young future fathers should take over. It is a good preparation for future changing of diapers.