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Cat Poop Serious Problem?

Photograph by Getty Images

Cats may make for great YouTube videos, but if you’re pregnant or have young kids, they could also be a hidden health danger. Not the cats themselves exactly, but what they leave in their litter box.

So warn two doctors who say cat poop could be a “vast and underappreciated” public health threat. And they don’t say this lightly, but after tons of research—some of which was just published in the medical journal Trends in Parasitology.

The doctors in question are Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., and Dr. Robert Yolken, director of the Stanley Neurovirology Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“Some cat poop contains Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite for which cats and other felines are the definitive host,” they told CNN. “This parasite can affect the fetus if a woman becomes infected while pregnant. That is why pregnant women are warned against changing cat litter.”

But how big is the risk? The doctors estimate that one percent of cats are infected, and that the oocysts in the feces can survive in moist soil for 18 months or longer. Plus, research suggests that it only takes one oocyst to infect a human.

The good news? Cats that are always indoors aren’t the problem. It’s outdoor cats. Cat owners should put their cat litter in the garbage verses flushing it down the toilet, where it can enter the local water supply. And since cats love relieving themselves on loose dirt or sand, parents should cover children’s sandboxes when not in use. Gardeners should wear gloves and wash vegetables thoroughly.

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