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New study says poop may be responsible for rapid coronavirus spread

Published Feb 20th, 2020 8:06PM EST
coronavirus update
Image: Kin Cheung/AP/Shutterstock

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As the medical community continues to focus on the spread of the coronavirus and resulting disease Covid-19, researchers are hunting for clues to explain its rapid spread in China and isolated regions outside of the country. Now, a new report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control suggests that poop might be a piece of the puzzle.

The paper reveals that a stool sample from an infected individual was confirmed to contain coronavirus that would have been capable of further infections. This is an important development since it opens up the possibility that the disease is spreading in ways not previously realized.

The “fecal-oral” route of transmission sounds gross, but it’s not as direct as you might imagine. Both human and animal waste finds its way into places you wouldn’t expect, including water supplies and other raw foods. If coronavirus can survive a trip through the digestive system, that means it may remain dangerous after exiting the body, potentially spreading to others.

The Chinese CDC explains:

This finding has important public health significance. Suggestions to strengthen the control of fecal oral transmission of 2019-nCoV include strengthening health publicity and education; maintaining environmental health and personal hygiene; drinking boiled water, avoiding raw food consumption, and implementing separate meal systems in epidemic areas; frequently washing hands and disinfecting of surfaces of objects in households, toilets, public places, and transportation vehicles; and disinfecting the excreta and environment of patients in medical facilities to prevent water and food contamination from patients’ stool samples.

At this point, it’s impossible to say how many of the tens of thousands of coronavirus cases may have been the result of infection related to human waste. Nevertheless, health officials are obviously looking for every possible angle to cut off the spread of the virus, and this new revelation may help them.