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A Cup of Coffee – Cats: Allergies, Cat Scratch Fever, Sudden Infant Death, Toxoplasmosis, and Schizophrenia.

Welcome back! Last week, we talked about having Bipolar Disorder, and what that may look like. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.

This week, the topic is cats. Yep, you heard me…cats. What do cats have to do with your health? Some doctors would say “plenty“. Others would say, “it’s all a myth“. After you read this blog, I’d like to know what you have to say about the topic.

Being a cat lover myself, I would have to admit, I have a bias. My precious Mr. Bigglesworth and my cantankerous feral rescue cat, Lucky, would never cause me grief, right? There are some studies that prove me wrong. Allergies, cat scratch fever, Toxoplasmosis (in my opinion one of the more serious of illnesses and one that often gets overlooked when women and children end up with odd symptoms), sudden infant death, and in some circles, even Schizophrenia, have been attributed to cats!

So let’s dig into it! Allergies: Yes, it’s a thing. Your significant other isn’t making it up simply because they don’t like Fluffy. The allergy is typically caused by inflammation in the nasal passages, and can trigger an asthma attack if severe enough allergy exists. The inflammation is caused by many different factors.

According to The Mayo Clinic,Allergens from cats and dogs are found in skin cells the animals shed (dander), as well as in their saliva, urine, sweat and on their fur. Dander is a particular problem because it is very small and can remain airborne for long periods of time with the slightest bit of air circulation. It also collects easily in upholstered furniture and sticks to your clothes.

Pet saliva can stick to carpets, bedding, furniture and clothing. Dried saliva can become airborne.

So-called hypoallergenic cats and dogs may shed less fur than shedding types, but no breed is truly hypoallergenic“.

Sorry, folks…I know there’s myths out there that state hairless cats are hypoallergenic (don’t cause allergies), but that’s simply not true. I actually asked a breeder at the annual cat show in Portland, Oregon, if it was true that hairless cats don’t cause allergies, and she said that in fact, hairless cats cause more allergic symptoms due to the fact that their skin is very oily, and the allergens spread more easily. Bummer!

The only true hypoallergenic pets are fish and reptiles.

Back to cats: Cat Scratch Fever: Also a thing. My sister was diagnosed with this when we were young. She was scratched by a cat, didn’t wash her scratch, and it became infected. Cat scratches should always be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water. Cat bites should be evaluated by a physician.

Cat Scratch Fever is known by several names. Cat scratch disease, Trench fever, Carrion’s disease, and most commonly, Bartonella infection.

The CDC reports: “Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria.  Most infections usually occur after scratches from domestic or feral cats, especially kittens. CSD occurs wherever cats and fleas are found. The most common symptoms include fever; enlarged, tender lymph nodes that develop 1–3 weeks after exposure; and a scab or pustule at the scratch site. In the United States, most cases occur in the fall and winter and illness is most common in children less than 15 years old“.

Here is a picture of a swollen lymph node as a result of cat scratch fever:

Toxoplasmosis. You’ve probably heard of this if you’ve ever been pregnant. Some doctors will caution pregnant women to use gloves when emptying litter pans, and with good reason.

First, what is it? The Mayo Clinic says this: “Toxoplasmosis (tok-so-plaz-MOE-sis) is a disease that results from infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world’s most common parasites. Infection usually occurs by eating undercooked contaminated meat, exposure from infected cat feces, or mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy“.

Most people who are exposed will never show any symptoms, but if they do, the most common symptoms are:

  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

If a pregnant woman gets this before or during pregnancy, it can be very serious.

If you become infected for the first time just before or during your pregnancy, you can pass the infection to your baby (congenital toxoplasmosis), even if you don’t have signs and symptoms yourself.

Your baby is most at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis if you become infected in the third trimester and least at risk if you become infected during the first trimester. On the other hand, the earlier in your pregnancy the infection occurs, the more serious the outcome for your baby.

Many early infections end in stillbirth or miscarriage. Infants who survive are likely to be born with serious problems, such as:

  • Seizures
  • An enlarged liver and spleen
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Severe eye infections

Only a small number of babies who have toxoplasmosis show signs of the disease at birth. Often, infants who are infected don’t develop signs — which may include hearing loss, mental disability or serious eye infections — until their teens or later.

Sudden Infant Death: Some people say that you should never have a cat around an infant. One myth is that cats “suck the air” out of an infant, causing sudden infant death. Some cats like to lay on the babies for warmth and in doing so, risk suffocating the baby. Other people say that cats are drawn to the babies mouth, smelling the milk on the babies breath.

While some of these may be true, it is literally impossible to scientifically confirm or deny the truth to these claims. Common sense would tell a person to never allow an animal to sleep with an infant. Cats can be unpredictable, and if your cat is as heavy as mine is, it is understandable why a person would think the cat laying on the baby might cause it’s death.

Use your own judgement on this one. My opinion? Don’t do it.

Our last topic is Schizophrenia. This one is interesting, and we are now looping back around again to the Toxoplasmosis topic. In January of this year, Peter Dockrill wrote an article on a new study:In what researchers describe as the largest study of its kind, scientists have found new evidence of a link between infection with the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, and schizophrenia. T. gondii, a brain-dwelling parasite estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, doesn’t create symptoms in most people who become infected – but acute cases of toxoplasmosis can be dangerous.

In a new study, led by researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, analysed data from over 80,000 individuals who took part in the Danish Blood Donor Study – a giant cohort, providing the basis for what the team calls the ‘largest to date serological study‘ in this area.

To ascertain links between mental disorders and infections with T. gondii and another common pathogen, the herpes virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), the researchers identified 2,591 individuals in the blood study who were registered with psychiatric conditions, and analysed their samples to look for traces of immunoglobulin antibodies indicative of the two infections.

In terms of T. gondii, compared to a control group, the blood work revealed individuals with the infection were almost 50 percent more likely (odds ratio 1.47) to be diagnosed with schizophrenia disorders compared to those without an infection.

The article goes on to say: “to minimize your exposure to toxoplasmosis – let alone its hypothetical ramifications – always cook food to safe temperatures, wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly, wear gloves while gardening, and be really careful around kitty litter.

The CDC’s official rundown on the parasite is a good resource for more information.

The findings are reported in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity“.

If you allow your cats to go outdoors, don’t be upset if your neighbors knock on your door, complaining that they are using their garden as a litter box. It’s a legitimate concern.

Here is a video that may be of interest to those who have a family member with schizophrenia, or doctors who treat patients with schizophrenia. It runs approximately five minutes:

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