Lifting the lid on coronavirus flatulence

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 disease has infected millions across the world since it was declared a pandemic on the 11th of March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has brought the world to its knees by halting economies around the globe as nations enforce social distancing laws to keep people at home. The highly infectious virus is spread via aerosols (droplets of saliva or nasal discharge spread by coughing or sneezing by the infected person with the mouth uncovered). New speculation reveals that it could spread via fecal matter and even via farts or flatulence. Researchers believe that there is some truth to this speculation.

Silent but deadly! Image Credit: CGN089 / Shutterstock
Silent but deadly! Image Credit: CGN089 / Shutterstock

Expert take on this matter

In a podcast from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Norman Swan, who was hosting it, said that farts could indeed spread the infection. He is also the producer of the podcast called the Coronacast. He warned, "No, bare-bottom farting"!

Swan said, "Luckily, we wear a mask, which covers our farts all the time," he said, referring to the protective garments of underwear, pants, dresses, shorts, and others. "I think that what we should do in terms of social distancing and being safe is that… you don't fart close to other people, and that you don't fart with your bottom bare."

Australian emergency physician Dr. Andy Tagg, asked on Twitter, "So, can the bottom-based emissions of someone with coronavirus be silent and deadly?" He said that farting could be an "aerosol-generating procedure."

Studies to support the theory

In a recently published study from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the fecal spread of the infection was speculated. The study showed that post flushing, the aerosolized "toilet plume," could contain fecal particles as well as the virus. This toilet plume could be spreading the infection, they found.

Purdue University mechanical engineering professor Dr. Qingyan Chen, on the study, said in a statement, "Close the lid and then flush." He explained that just closing the lid before flushing could stop 80 percent of the fecal particles from being aerosolized and thus stop the spread of the infection.

Chen advised, "…it's all about shutting the lid before you flush, and washing your hands after dealing with the number twos."

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, a Mount Sinai South Nassau epidemiologist and professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in his statement, "Studies have clearly shown that a significant percentage of COVID-19 patients do have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms (alone, or in combination with respiratory or other general symptoms) at the time of illness presentation." He added, "However, there are no published data on whether flatulence alone presents any risk of transmission, although, in a clothed person, it would be unlikely to be a significant route of transmission."

Not all experts agree

Dr. Sam Hay, in a statement to website body+soul said that he did not believe in this theory of fecal aerosols spreading COVID-19. He said, "Personally, I think this is a load of crap - pun intended. I think it's sensationalist to spread the fear that a simple fart could underlie the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020." He said that the risk of getting the infection from farts is "infinitely low". Dr. Hay said, "Drawing a link to farts - which may or may not carry tiny poo particles - and the spread of COVID-19, is a little far-fetched. Sure, it may be theoretically possible, but the risk is going to be infinitely low. And there's absolutely zero evidence for it at all."

He added, however, "There's increasing evidence that gastrointestinal symptoms form part of the clinical picture for COVID-19, and that includes diarrhea. There's also good evidence that the virus is found in feces. Therefore the fecal-oral route of transmission needs attention."

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) also says that infections are capable of spreading via different portals in the body such as mouth (orally via food and water contaminated with feces), eyes, nose, respiratory tract, broken skin or wounds and genitals (sexual contact). Caution is warranted the organization says to prevent such spread.

Handwashing frequently remains one of the major recommendations. Washing hands for 20 seconds after using the toilet should be practiced. The Oregon and New York health officials have warned against oral contact with feces during sex, especially if a partner is suspected to be positive for COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Andy Tagg tweeted, saying, "Perhaps SARS-CoV-2 can be spread [through] the power of parping — we need more evidence. So remember to wear appropriate PPE at all times and stay safe!"

Medical professionals have warned against taking this information at face value and are recommending more studies and evidence to accept this as a fact. They, however, recommend good bathroom hygiene to all to prevent the spread of the infection.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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