Courtesy manitoonI was wrong!
You know, I spend so much time being right, that the occasional (very, very occasional) situation in which I’m slightly…not right, is actually pretty refreshing. It’s like, oh, I don’t know, getting halfway to work and realizing that you forgot to put on pants, and then linking, “Hey, who cares? And it’s a warm day!” It’s liberating.
Some days I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by cat feces. I don’t even live with a cat at the moment, but I’m aware that there are millions of cats out there, and they’re all addicted to pooping (just try forcing a cat to go cold turkey—total junkies for the litter box). There’s just so much cat poop in the world, and none of it smells very good, and I don’t want to touch any of it, and its very existence drives me to distraction.
Nobody else seems to care very much. Here I am, dreaming of cats that emit water vapor and rose-scented hydrogen gas as their only waste products, and the rest of the world seems content to live with a planet suffocating under the weight and odor of cat effluvia. I imagine that Leonardo felt the same way. It’s a lonely existence.
Perhaps no longer.
Toxoplasmosis gondii is an interesting little gooball (gooball is a term of my own, so don’t use it in class, or you’ll get an F and I’ll sue you). It’s a protozoan parasite, capable of living in nearly any warm-blooded mammal (it’s estimated that over 20% of the U.S. population carries the parasite), although its infectious form—responsible for about a third of all deaths from food borne illnesses—is only carried by cats.
The parasite has some interesting tricks up its sleeves too. It seems that when a rodent is infected with T. gondii, it loses its fear of cats. And a little mousey with no fear of cats is a little mousey that gets eaten, successfully passing the parasite back to its favorite host. Weird.
I also have very little fear of cats, which led me initially to believe that I was a carrier of the disease. But a study covered in this article details a whole different set of symptoms in infected humans (of which, again, there are many). Men who are infected “have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women” An unsettling portion of this description applies to me, and so it’s possible that I may still be infected.
Infected women, on the other hand, are generally “more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.” So, you know, it turns out that kittens are a good gift item after all.
And if that isn’t enough to get people thinking about cat feces, it turns out that some of human’s favorite animals, aquatic mammals, are just swimming in toxoplasmosis. How do you like that? The appearance of the parasite in marine mammal populations (including whales, dolphins, otters, sea lions, and seals) seems to be relatively recent, but it is estimated that up to 17% of sea otter deaths alone could be attributed to toxoplasma.
So how are sea creatures across the world becoming “infected by a parasite that is spread primarily through the consumption of infectious cat feces and infected meat”?
(That quote, by the way, comes from a microbiology researcher from Boston, and, if you remove “and infected meat,” is the winner of the best quote of the day award.)
Anchovies. Probably anchovies. The little fish are filter feeders, and could pick up the parasite before beginning extensive migrations, spreading the disease to the many anchovy eaters of the oceans (people who eat anchovies are safe, because heat kills the protozoa). Just how the organism is getting to the anchovies remains unclear, but it has been proposed that the problem has to do with cat feces-contaminated runoff.
So there. Like sea otters and dolphins? Then start thinking about cat feces. I don’t propose that you do anything about it, but I do want you to obsess over it. You won’t be alone.
Also, especially if you’re a guy, keep that stuff out of your mouth.