Bengaluru: After a coronavirus-related misinformation gaffe earlier this week, Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan released a video on Twitter Wednesday, generating awareness about the spread of the virus through human excreta and asking people to use toilets more.
Bachchan is the face of the Modi government’s flagship cleanliness campaign, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which aims to make the country free from open defecation, a problem that has plagued the Indian subcontinent through much of recent history.
Bachchan explained that a new study by The Lancet, released last week, found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain alive in human excreta for several weeks. Due to this, the actor urged everyone to defecate indoors.
In the video, Bachchan offered three steps everyone must remember to take, in line with the health advisories issued by experts and scientists. He asked people to use toilets and stop defecating outdoors, practise social distancing, and wash hands with soap multiple times a day and not touch face.
Transmission from faecal matter
The study Bachchan referred to found that the conditions within human excreta and faecal matter could potentially enable the novel coronavirus to thrive in it for many more days than in lung samples or respiratory droplets.
The study also found that patients who have tested positive and have since been cured could continue shedding the virus in their faecal matter for nearly five weeks after testing negative.
“Therefore, routine stool sample testing with real-time RT-PCR is highly recommended after the clearance of viral RNA in a patient’s respiratory samples,” write the authors of the study, urging authorities to continue testing for the virus in stool samples after lung samples come negative and not release patients until stool samples also test negative.
Spread of the virus through human faeces is a serious threat in a country like India where open defecation is a huge public health battle. And such problems have had a precedent.
Two other coronavirus outbreaks — SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) — saw faecal matter to human transmission. SARS was detected in untreated sewage for up to 14 days and many people who came in contact with sewage aerosols were infected.
The implications posed huge risk for daily sanitation workers.