Researchers answer a question no one thinks to ask: are cat feces a danger to your health?

The Los Angeles Times reports there are parasites that can live in a cat's fecal, and there is a desire fore public campaigns to encourage people to clean up after their pets.

"Nobody wants to talk about it, but our cats are outside pooping all over the place," Patricia Conrad, a professor of parasitology at UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine, told LA Times. "There's a lot more out there in the environment than any of us would like to think about."

According to LA Times, infection by feces-borne parasites can lead to serious birth defects, including deafness and mental retardation. Additionally, more recent studies have linked parasite infections to an increased risk of schizophrenia, suicidal behavior and brain cancer.

A study about the parasites was published on Tuesday in the journal Trends in Parasitology.

"There's increased awareness now that Toxoplasma gondii is a very clever parasite, and does strange things to the brain," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, lead author of the study and director of the Stanley Medical Institute. "That's prompted us to re-evaluate it. It may be capable of doing more than we thought."

The study urges pet owners to properly dispose of cat litter by sending it to a sanitary landfill with the rest of your trash, according to the LA times.

Torrey wants to begin a public health campaign to reduce the population of wild cats, and to educate people against oocysts (feces-borne parasites).

"It should be assumed that the play areas of children, especially sandboxes, are highly infectious unless they have been covered at all times when not in use, or ... are not accessible to cats," the authors wrote. "It should also be assumed that gardens to which cats have access are infectious, and gardeners should wear gloves and wash their hands after completing gardening....Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed."

For the full LA Times story about the study and health risks, click here.