The serious side of defecating and poop

October 7, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

There is a serious side to defecation–you know, “poop.”   This serious story has to do with both safety and disease.   Did you know that diarrhea kills a child every fifteen seconds?  All of a sudden, poop is not such a laughing matter. After you read this well-researched article by Rose George of Slate, you’ll really begin to appreciate your toilet.

2.6 billion people don’t have sanitation. I don’t mean that they have no toilet in their house and must use a public one with queues and fees. Or that they have an outhouse or a rickety shack that empties into a filthy drain or pigsty. All that counts as sanitation, though not a safe variety. The people who have those are the fortunate ones. But four in ten people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket, or box. Nothing. Instead, they defecate by train tracks and in forests. They do it in plastic bags and fling them through the air in narrow slum alleyways. If they are women, they get up at 4 a.m. to be able to do their business under cover of darkness for reasons of modesty, risking rape and snakebites. Four in ten people live in situations in which they are surrounded by human excrement, because it is in the bushes outside the village or in their city yards, left by children outside the back door. It is tramped back in on their feet, carried on fingers onto clothes and into food and drinking water.

The disease toll of this is stunning. Eighty percent of the world’s illness is caused by fecal matter. A gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, and 100 worm eggs. Bacteria can be beneficial: the human body needs bacteria to function, and only 10 percent of cells in our body are actually human. Plenty are not. Small fecal particles can then contaminate water, food, cutlery, and shoes—and be ingested, drunk, or unwittingly eaten. One sanitation specialist has estimated that people who live in areas with inadequate sanitation ingest 10 grams of fecal matter every day.

You’ll never think about shit the same, after reading George’s article.   I took special interest her description of the wide variety of things one can do with excrement.   Note:  To learn more about poop, especially about the wide variety of synonyms we generate and use for poop, read “Why are there so many synonyms for poop?”

For fun, check out the Scrubs musical number about the diagnostic potential of poop.

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Category: Health, Medicine

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    One of my sisters informed me that there is a book that instructs people about the environmentally sound method of shitting in the woods. Here's the link.

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