Anyone who has cleaned a litter box knows to wash their hands afterwards, but be careful where you dispose of those cat droppings. Cat feces can carry a par aside known asToxoplasma gondii, which is a single-celled organism that creates infectious agents called oocysts. These oocysts can infect pregnant women, causing congenital problems in the baby such as deafness, seizures, eye damage and mental retardation. The parasite can also infect people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS. Studies have even linked the parasite to schizophrenia, depression, suicidal behavior and lower school achievement in children.

To minimize the risk of getting infected, cover children’s sandboxes so cats can’t relieve themselves in there. Gardeners should wear gloves and wash their vegetables since stray cats often relieve themselves in gardens. Finally, be sure to dispose of cat litter in the trash and not down a toilet. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter boxes altogether.

Enjoy your cat, but minimize the danger of infection and illness.

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