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To stem disease, keep cats indoors, stop feeding strays, scientist urges

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Keep pet cats inside, stop feeding strays, cook meat sufficiently and reconsider the way the veterinary profession and public health agencies think -- and teach -- about the zoonotic pathogen Toxoplasma gondii.

Such are the recommendations of Milton M. McAllister, a professor of pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He delivered that message at 8:30 a.m., Oct. 19 (2:30 p.m. CDT Tuesday, Oct. 18) in Christchurch, New Zealand, at the 20th International Conference of the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology.

McAllister, also a clinical professor of pathology in the U. of I. College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, made his case based on his review of numerous studies on the animal-carried pathogen during the past decade. His review, prepared for the conference, appeared in the Sept. 30 issue of the journal Veterinary Parasitology.

"Our profession needs to come to grip with the accumulating body of evidence about the tremendous burden wrought on society by toxoplasmosis," McAllister wrote. "Further research is needed to clarify the association between toxoplasmosis and mental health, but until such time that this association may be refuted, it is my opinion that the current evidence is strong enough to warrant an assumption of validity."

Toxoplasma can infect most warm-blooded animals, as well as humans and birds. Domestic cats and some wild cats are the only animals that can transmit the parasite by shedding the organism in feces. Other animals become infected when they consume the organisms shed by cats. This method of parasite transmission is called fecal-oral, but it doesn't actually mean that feces are directly ingested.

The organisms survive in soil long after feces have decomposed. Dust contaminates paws, fingers, feedstuffs and water, ultimately leading to ingestion by animals and people.

McAllister and colleagu
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
18-Oct-2005


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