WASHINGTON - Everybody poops, but not all poop is created equal.
Felines deposit more than 1.2 metric tons of feces into the environment every year. And in that excrement may be the eggs of a parasite named Toxoplasma gondii -- commonly called T. gondii.
Schoolyard sandboxes and backyard gardens are likely targets for the deposits. Since pregnant women and people with weak immune systems are prime candidates for getting sick, they should avoid cat-box duty.
"It may be a much bigger problem than we realize," Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, the study's lead author and a psychiatrist who heads the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., told NBC.
NBC says cats can get the parasite by eating an infected bird or other prey, and then pass on the eggs in their feces. According to various soil samples, there could be an annual burden of many as 434 eggs (called "oocysts" in the science world) per square foot of soil, and just one egg may cause an infection.
And while people with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to T. gondii, healthy people can become sick as well. Some studies also suggest connections to mental disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, according to the NBC report.
There's not a lot of evidence that owning a cat makes anyone more susceptible, according to Torrey's research. Also, a 2007 study showed the presence of T. gondii antibodies in U.S. born people dropped between 1999 and 2004.
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