Research from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub estimates the economic cost of cat diseases on human health in Australia at $6 billion per year.
Prof Sarah Legge talks about the findings of the research
This research, lead by Professor Sarah Legge, under the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program, looked at the rates of cat-dependent diseases, their health impacts and costs of medical treatment to quantify the economic costs of these diseases in Australia.
The study found that cat-dependent diseases cause over 550 deaths and 8,500 hospitalisations and has a $6 billion impact on the economy each year.
Cat-dependent diseases include Toxoplasmosis, cat scratch infections, and cat roundworm, and the impacts of these diseases range from minor to significant.
“Some of the most insidious effects of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite come from the possible long-term effects on behaviour and mental health" says Prof Legge.
Toxoplasmosis can increase risk-taking behaviour and reduce reaction times, and has been linked to increased likelihood of car accidents. "Without this parasite, about 200 deaths and 6500 hospitalisations due to car accidents could be avoided in Australia each year." says Prof Legge.
These infections can also have severe impacts on mental health. "One in five (21%) cases of schizophrenia and one in ten (10%) suicides and suicide attempts could be avoided if we eliminated Toxoplasma gondii infections."
Image: Jaana Dielenberg
Study co-author Dr John Read says that the the impacts (and costs) of cat-dependent diseases can be lowered by reducing feral cat and roaming pet cat populations in residential areas.
Some actions people can take is to avoid feeding stray cats or allowing them access to bins, de-sexing your pet cats and keeping them indoors 24 hours a day.
Washing hands after handling kitty litter, keeping cats away from veggie gardens and children's play areas, and washing veggies and cooking meat thoroughly are some protective measures people can take to protect their health.