Cat-dependent diseases and human health

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Feral cats and roaming pet cats aren’t just bad news for Australia’s wildlife, they can also pass on harmful diseases to humans.

The majority of pet cats (71%) are allowed to roam outside, where they are exposed to a range of pathogens that can cause disease in people as well as in the cats themselves.

Some of these pathogens depend on cats for part of their life cycle, and would not exist in Australia if cats hadn’t been introduced here.

Cat scratch disease, toxocariasis and toxoplasmosis are caused by pathogens introduced to Australia by cats and cost the Australian economy $6 billion a year in medical and other direct costs, including lost income.

Human infection rates can be lowered by reducing the number of feral cats living in towns and cities, keeping pet cats securely contained indoors or in a cat run, reducing transmission rates via food and from the environment with hygiene practices and encouraging people not to keep pet cats.

One of the cat-borne diseases in Australia is Toxocara cati. Humans become infected by incidentally ingesting the larvae passed on through cat faeces. The migration of the cat roundworm larvae through the body can cause tissue damage and inflammation, which can be serious when it occurs in eye, central nervous system or heart tissue.

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