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Can COVID-19 be spread through poop? Rice University researcher says it's not a silly question

This study could have important implications, especially for those working in the restaurant industry, nursing homes, day cares, etc.
Credit: Rice University
A Rice University epidemiologist has been reviewing several studies on whether COVID-19 can be spread through fecal matter.

HOUSTON — Can COVID-19 be spread through fecal matter? It may sound like a gross question but it’s an important one.

That’s why a Rice University epidemiologist has been reviewing several studies of coronavirus patients' poop.

“Most of the studies that have been done so farRice University  are picking up viral RNA in the feces rather than infectious virus,” said E. Susan Amirian, an epidemiologist with Rice’s Texas Policy Lab and the study’s lead author. “However, a few studies have showed that infectious virus may be present in stool samples.”

Amirian said the mere presence of genetic material is less worrisome than if infectious amounts of viable virus are found in future studies. That would imply it is possible for it to be transmitted to others through feces.

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This would have important implications, especially for those working in the restaurant industry, nursing homes, day cares, etc.

“There are plenty of other diseases out there that are transmitted through fecal contamination, including hepatitis A and norovirus,” she said. “Following a high level of precaution will help just in case COVID-19 can be spread this way.”

It’s another reason to continue to wash your hands in warm water for 20 seconds as often as possible.

The bottom line, according to Amirian: more work is needed to determine if the virus can be spread through poop which would make the pandemic even worse.

“But given this possibility, it behooves us to be more careful, especially in settings where people have an increased risk of morbidity and death due to COVID-19,” she said.

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“Potential Fecal Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: Current Evidence and Implications for Public Health” will appear in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases and is available online. 

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