Cat Parasites in Feces Could Pose Bigger Health Risk Than Previously Thought, Study Claims (VIDEO)

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(PHOTO: REUTERS/Natalie Behring)Winter, a Norwegian Forest Cat, licks turkey-flavored baby food off a spoon as a reward for good behavior at the "Meet the Breeds" exhibition in New York October 17, 2009. The exhibition featured about 200 breeds of dogs and cats.

Cat parasites found in feces could pose a previously under-recognized public health hazard, according to reports out this week.

It is believed that about 1.2 million metric tons of feces are created in the U.S. environment every single year, according to a new study that claims the parasites detected in the feces could pose a much more serious public health risk than previously thought.

The parasite found is called Toxoplasma gondii, and scientists now believe that the eggs of the bog are more widespread than previously known. They are now advising that cat owners take precautions in certain areas where humans can come into contact with the parasite, such as gardens and kids' sandboxes.

It is common knowledge that cat feces contain a parasite called T. gondii, which can cause human illness, and in the past pregnant women and elderly people have been asked to avoid cat feces as they could have a more compromised immune system. If infected by the parasite it can result in congenital problems and serious illness.

However, now a new study by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey and Dr. Robert H. Yolken, scientists at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, finds that the parasite eggs, known as oocysts, may be more common that thought before. They believe there could in fact be between three and 434 oocysts per square foot of soil, according to samples in their study. It can take just a single oocyst to cause an infection.

Torrey, a psychiatrist who heads the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. Has told The Associated Press: "It may be a much bigger problem than we realize."

Cats are said to pick up the parasite when they come into contact with infected prey, such as mice or even birds. They then shed the oocyst in their feces. That can lead to children coming into contact with the oocyst if they touch any remains in common areas where cats have been such as backyards and sandboxes.

"It should give you pause before you put your child in a public sandbox," Torrey has said.

Here is a video explaining the potential threat of cat feces: