According to a new study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, your cuddly cat companion might pose some serious health risks, especially to senior citizens. Previous research has shown that cats can spread a brain infecting parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can cause negative health effects, including an increased risk of schizophrenia and depression in infected humans. New research by German scientists and the World Health Organization, however, shows that this parasite may even cause serious memory loss in individuals older than 65.

Brain Behavior, Brain Behavior and Immunity, Patrick D. Gajewski, Michael Falkenstein, Jan G. Hengstler, and Klaus Golka of the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, World Health Organization, Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health, cats, felines, Toxoplasma gondii, memory loss, dementia, cats cause dementia, cats cause memory loss, cat Toxoplasma gondii infection

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite can be found in cats’ digestive tract and bowels. The parasite can then be spread to humans by the often accidental ingestion of cat feces left on people’s hands after cleaning out the litter box or other forms of contact. Though the single-celled pathogen has reportedly infected over half the world’s population, including an estimated 50 million Americans, Toxoplasma usually causes no serious effects in most people.

Senior citizens, on the other hand, are at a higher risk for serious health complications. According to the study, infected seniors suffered short-term memory loss. Other elderly patients were even unable to recall events from the longer term past. The paper’s authors reported that it was the first time that the Toxoplasma gondis infection was suspected of being a cause of the significant deterioration of the episodic and working memory.

While house cats can spread the infection, a major vector of the problem is stray felines. A single infected cat can spread hundreds of millions of infectious eggs that can survive for a long time. The problem is further compounded by strays that can and will go everywhere from public recreational areas to your backyard, where they leave their feces in unexpected areas. Due to these newfound medical risks, addressing the issue of stray cat populations is now more important than ever.

+ Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

Via ABC Birds

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