By Melinda Warren
If you own a cat, the next time you change the litter box you may want to exercise some extra caution.
A new study out of the United Kingdom by medical experts says approximately 350,000 people per year are infected there with a disease spread by cats called toxoplasmosis.
According to a report out of the Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, toxoplasmosis can play a role in the development of mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia because of an interaction with dopamine levels in the brain.
The report found the parasite affects the brain by creating a cyst within the brain cells needed to make dopamine.
There is no data available for Canada, so far.
Toxoplasmosis also has an impact on pregnant women and their fetuses.
The disease can cause deafness, mental retardation, learning difficulties and epilepsy later in life in babies who are affected.
A staff resource person with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association told Humber News on Tuesday he had not heard of a link between toxoplasmosis and mental illness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that cats become infected with the disease by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals.
The parasite is then passed through the intestines and into the cat’s feces.
The CDC’s website said that, if they are infected, kittens and cats can have millions of parasites living in their intestines for up to three weeks.
“The best way to protect yourself from toxoplasmosis is to avoid changing litter boxes if possible, ensuring the litter box is changed daily, keep cats indoors, avoid strays, wear gloves while gardening and keep outdoor sandboxes covered,” the CDC said on their website.