Cats and Toxo: Good Kitty, Good Science, Bad Journalism

Inaccurate reports about a study that links women who commit suicide to toxoplasmosis could harm cats, people and the women they intend to protect.

If Toxoplasma gondii is linked to mental illness and suicide, then people need to know the facts about the infection. Using scare tactics in headlines and slanting the stories to gain the most internet traffic and highest rankings doesn’t help and it can only hurt. The reporting about this study, “Toxoplasma gondii Infection and Self-directed Violence in Mothers” published in Arch Gen Psychiatry, is an example of the bad journalism that is rampant on the internet this week as seen on CNN Health, and TIME.

The T. Gondii Study
First of all, the actual study does not suggest that cats cause women to commit suicide. Other studies have shown, quite the contrary, that cats and other pets are good for our self-esteem, lower our blood pressure, help us recover from heart attacks and might prevent them in the first place, and give people something to live for. People, including women and children, who might benefit from having a cat could be harmed from this bad journalism.

The Toxo Truth
The truth about cats and toxoplasmosis is that felines do shed in their feces the T. gondii parasite’s eggs, but only for a few days out of the cat’s entire lifetime. So the chances of contracting the infection from cat feces are extremely slim. And, it takes at least 24 hours for the eggs to become infectious after the cat defecates, so if you clean your litterbox every day, you reduce even more your chances of contracting it from the cat’s feces. To become infected from your kitty’s litterbox, your hands would have to come into contact with the feces and then you would have to handle food without washing your hands. That sounds disgusting and anyone with common sense would wash their hands after scooping a litterbox, especially if they’re going to handle food immediately afterward.

Real Help to Fight Toxoplasmosis
The real damage these poorly reported stories do is they don’t help pregnant women and immune-compromised people avoid T. gondii infection. You are much more likely to become infected with toxoplasmosis after handling raw meat or gardening with your hands in the dirt. Prevent infection by washing your hands with hot soapy water after handling raw meat, gardening or cleaning the litterbox, and sanitize all kitchen items that come into contact with raw meat during food preparation. It’s really that simple.

Please stop the misinformation and spread the facts about cats and toxoplasmosis.

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