The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging calm over ‘alarmist’ headlines linking contact with cats to schizophrenia due to the risks posed by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.
The report in the 4 September 2012 edition of the Independent contains some very important messages regarding the need for good personal hygiene and the need for pregnant women and immuno-compromised groups to be aware of the risks. However, the BVA is concerned that the headlines could cause significant alarm to cat owners.
Most people who become infected are asymptomatic but 10-20% can show transient symptoms which are flu-like. There is a more serious risk to pregnant women and those who are immuno-compromised, but as with all infections common sense and good personal hygiene reduces the risk significantly and there is no reason that families with, or those intending to have, children shouldn’t have pet cats.
As outlined in the article sources of infection include eating undercooked meat and vegetables that have not been washed properly and contact with cats. It is not known which the greater source of infection is but anecdotal evidence suggests that meat is likely to be more important than contact with cats. The BVA echoes advice that meat should be prepared and cooked properly.
Good hygiene with cats includes the following:
- Wash hands after handling a cat
- Do not allow children near cat litter trays
- Pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter trays, or use protective gloves if it cannot be avoided
- Ensure faeces in little is removed promptly and disposed of where people can’t be contaminated by it.
Commenting, BVA Past President and veterinary surgeon Harvey Locke said:
“While the facts are true, the headlines in this story have been quite alarmist and we are very keen to reassure cat owners that the risks can be managed with good basic hygiene and common sense.
“The biggest threat is to pregnant women and those who are immuno-compromised, which we have known for some time. It is useful to reiterate that they should take extra care but there is no need for people to get rid of their pet cats or choose not to have cats as pets.”
The Pet Health Council, an organisation informing people on matters relating to pet and human health agrees with the BVA common sense advice. It also says that the benefits of cat ownership are significant. Research has shown that cats in the home can help reduce blood pressure and perceived levels of stress, boost the immune system, aid recovery from illness and provide an important source of companionship.
For more information see the Pet Health Council Factsheet on Toxoplasmosis.