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Cat (Photo : YouTube/Tiger Productions)

According to a new study, cat ownership during childhood raises the risk of being diagnosed with a mental illness like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction or bipolar disorder later in life. The primary reason is the exposure to a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that is present in feces of cats. The study was published in the journal Schizophrenia Research.

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The parasite can infect any warm-blooded animal, including humans. It can cause serious damage to pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems, Medical News Today reported.

Toxoplasma gondii leads to an illness known as toxoplasmosis, a condition that gives rise to abnormal fetal development, miscarriage, blindness and flu-like symptoms.

According to experts, toxoplasmosis could also affect the mind, especially among individuals who are exposed to T. gondii as kids. The new research suggests that latent T. gondii infections can reactivate later in life. Infected kids are two times as likely to develop schizophrenia and are slightly more vulnerable to other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and bipolar disorder, according to a review of 50 studies published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

People can get  toxoplasmosis by mistakenly ingesting feces of a cat and this can happen when changing litter box of a cat or ingesting contaminated soil. 

Kids can be protected by keeping their cat indoors and covering the sandbox when not in use. Also, it is important to change the litter box of a cat regularly because parasite is not infectious until between 1 and 5 days after the cat poops, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.