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Some cat-related diseases can infect humans, with sometimes serious and tragic health consequences.
A new study published in Wildlife Research has for the first time quantified the effects and costs of cat-related diseases on human health in Australia.
The study found that these diseases cause over 500 deaths and 11,000 hospitalizations in Australia each year and cost the Australian economy $ 6 billion a year.
The research was carried out by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub.
Lead author Professor Sarah Legge of the Australian National University and the University of Queensland said that if there were no cats in Australia, we would not have these diseases.
“Toxoplasmosis, cat roundworm and cat scratch disease came to Australia with cats in 1788. The pathogens that cause these diseases depend on cats for part of their life cycle. So without cats these diseases would not be here,” said Professor Legge.
“We examined the incidence of these diseases in Australia, their health effects, medical treatment costs, loss of income and other reasonable related expenses.
“We found that toxoplasmosis is the cat-dependent disease with the greatest impact on human health in Australia.
The disease is caused by a unicellular parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. People get the parasite by eating undercooked meat infected with the parasite or by accidentally eating a microscopic “oocyst” that is like an egg. Infected cats release millions of these oocysts in their feces and can live in the environment for up to 18 months.
“We estimate that there are nearly 130,000 new toxoplasmosis infections in humans in Australia each year.
“Many infected people appear to be asymptomatic or have symptoms that can easily be diagnosed as flu, but immunocompromised people like cancer patients can get very sick and even die.
Lead author Professor Sarah Legge of the Australian National University and the University of Queensland discusses toxoplasmosis, cat roundworm and cat scratch disease and their effects on Australia. Credit: Threatened Species Recovery Hub
“If a woman becomes infected with the parasite while pregnant, it can lead to miscarriages or lifelong congenital effects on her unborn baby, including hearing, eyesight and mental impairment.
“Some of the most insidious effects of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite stem from its potential long-term behavioral and mental health effects.
“Toxoplasma gondii infections can increase risk behavior and reduce reaction times. This could explain why people involved in car accidents are more likely to have Toxoplasma gondii infections. Without this parasite, there could be around 200 deaths and 6,500 hospital stays from car accidents. ” avoided in Australia every year.
“Toxoplasma gondii infections are also associated with a higher risk of many mental disorders. One in five (21%) cases of schizophrenia and one in ten (10%) suicide and attempted suicide could be avoided if we eliminated Toxoplasma gondii infection.”
Cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection (Bartonella henselae) that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected cat. Symptoms can include sores, fever, pain, and swollen glands.
“We estimate that at least 270 people are hospitalized for cat scratch disease in Australia every year. However, we suspect that the number is higher because the disease is not adequately reported.”
Cat roundworm (Toxocara cati) infections are caused by accidentally eating the parasite’s egg, which is released into the environment in the feces of infected cats. Most cat roundworm infections cause mild symptoms, but migration of the larvae around the body can cause tissue damage, which can be severe if it occurs in a place such as the eye or heart.
According to the study co-author, Dr. John Read of the University of Adelaide, “By reducing the number of wild and free-roaming domestic cats in residential areas in Adelaide, we as a community can reduce the rates of infection in all of these feline-related diseases in humans.
“Wildcats near cities are a reservoir of disease. People can keep the wildcat population low by: not feeding strays or giving them access to containers, desexing pet cats by 5 months, and supporting local government initiatives to control cats.
“Pet cats can also harbor and spread these diseases. Pet cats that are allowed to roam outdoors are exposed to a range of pathogens making them more likely to cause disease in both humans and cats themselves.
“The best thing pet cat owners can do to reduce the risk of these diseases for themselves and their families is to keep their cats at bay 24 hours a day. Over 30% of domestic cats in Australia are already indoors or on safe cat walks kept outdoors. We need to increase this percentage, “said Dr. Read.
People can also help protect themselves through good hygiene practices: washing hands thoroughly after handling cat litter or gardening, keeping cats away from vegetable gardens and children’s sand pits, cooking meat thoroughly, and washing vegetables well.
Toxoplasma parasite can be acquired from eating uncooked meat
Sarah Legge et al., Cat-related Diseases Cost Australia $ 6 billion a year in human health and animal production impacts, Wildlife Research doi.org/10.1071/WR20089
Provided by Threatened Species Recovery Hub
Quote: Cat Disease Impacts US $ 6 Billion on Human Health in Australia (2020 October 15), accessed March 8, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-cat-diseases- billion-impact-human.html
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