The 14 cats the USDA ARS is adopting out have never been infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, the agency’s press release said. Goodman told HuffPost that those cats are the last ones staying in any USDA lab.
Toxoplasmosis, the disease the parasite causes, can result in a mild, flu-like illness — or, in people with compromised immune systems, a severe illness. Pregnant women who contract the parasite can potentially have miscarriages, stillborn infants, or babies with serious health issues.
People typically contract the parasite by eating undercooked, contaminated meat, consuming contaminated water, or accidentally devouring cat feces or soil containing such parasite.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 40 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite, though the vast majority never have any symptoms. Even so, the CDC considers toxoplasmosis to be a “leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness” in the U.S.