350,000 people are infected from cats each year

Sleeping cat 
By: Shifra Unger 

Many people just love to have cats as home pets.

However, according to a new report released this week, a thousand people a day are infected by a dangerous parasite spread by cats, a study has revealed.

Toxoplasma can cause birth defects, blindness and dementia, and has been linked to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Official figures released this week show that about 350,000 Britons each year suffer from this infection. The report links the infection to the most popular pet in Britain, surprising cat owners.

Animals are the main carriers of the parasite, as they are the only thing in which the infection can reproduce itself.

Humans however, are more likely to be infected by the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii from contaminated meat and vegetables or direct contact with infected cat litter.

Vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, are at most risk. The disease can cause serious harm to developing babies in the womb.

Experts have estimated that one percent of Britain's eight million cats carry the parasite. However, they have warned that the true extent of the disease has not yet been fully researched.

They want this infection to be made as a disease in England and Wales, which must be recorded, and medical staff will have to report the infection to a national database, as is already the case in Scotland.

The Food Standards Agency will publish a "risk profile" later this week looking at Toxoplasma in the food industry.
The new FSA report is expected to highlight the unknown scale of Toxoplasma infections.

Although 80 percent of infected people have no symptoms after getting the infection, the remaining 20 percent or up to 70,000 people a year, can get very sick.