It is possible for a person to accidentally or unknowingly ingest poop from a human or from contact with animals or soil.
Food poisoning often occurs as a result of a person eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with feces.
Sometimes, feces transfers to a person if they change a diaper or care for someone and do not wash their hands afterwards. Babies or toddlers can also sometimes eat their own feces.
United States Poison Control Centers received around 6,000 calls regarding exposure to feces or urine in 2010.
This article looks at what could happen if a person ingests poop, and what they should do next.
A person who ingests human or animal feces may be at risk of contracting a number of viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
Parasites are tiny organisms that can live in the intestines of humans and animals. If a person ingests feces from someone who has a parasite, they themselves can contract the infection. Parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia can cause symptoms including diarrhea and dehydration.
A doctor may prescribe medication to get rid of parasites.
Hepatitis A is a liver disease that can transmit to a person if they ingest contaminated feces.
Some people have no symptoms, while others may feel sick for several weeks. In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death — particularly in older people and those with other liver conditions.
Feces from animals can contain bacteria that can cause infections in humans. People should be careful to wash their hands after coming into contact with animals, their bedding and litter trays, and soil in the garden.
The sections below will discuss the potential results of coming into contact with certain types of animal feces.
Dog feces can contain Campylobacter bacteria. This infection is the most common cause of people being ill with diarrhea in the U.S. It is usually acquired through contaminated raw poultry.
Most people recover from a Campylobacter infection within a week, although their stools may still be infectious to other people for some weeks after. Long-term complications can include irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Dog feces can also infect a person with Escherichia coli, Salmonellosis, and Yersiniosis, as well as a number of different parasites, according to the Canadian Public Health Association.
Cat feces can carry toxoplasmosis. Coming into contact with the feces in a litter tray or the soil outside can cause infections.
Healthy people do not usually experience any symptoms, but the infection can be very serious in pregnant women.
Toxoplasmosis can also cause serious eye conditions and affect people who have weakened immune systems.
Salmonella can live in the digestive tract of many animals, including:
- farm animals
The infection can spread to humans through their feces, contaminated bedding, or fur. However, people can avoid infection by making sure that they wash their hands after coming into contact with animals.
Salmonella can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Infants, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems may develop more severe symptoms.
Raccoon feces can carry a parasite called Baylisascaris procyonis. Other animals, such as dogs and skunks, may also carry it. Infection is rare in humans, but some cases can be serious.
That said, one 2016 study indicates that around 7% of wildlife rehabilitators have been exposed to the infection.
The infection can affect the brain, spinal cord, eyes, and other organs. Signs and symptoms may take a week or so to develop and can include:
- a loss of muscle control
- a coma
The Illinois Poison Center say that if a child eats a small amount of feces and has no symptoms, it is minimally toxic.
However, they advise people to call their local poison center immediately on 1-800-222-1222 if the child:
- eats more than a mouthful of feces
- has symptoms
- eats an unknown amount or an unknown substance
Any symptoms will usually appear within 30 minutes to 4 hours. They may include:
- a fever
These symptoms can be either mild or severe. If the child has a fever or persistent vomiting or diarrhea, a person should call their doctor immediately.
If the child has swallowed less than a mouthful of feces and is not experiencing any symptoms, a person can give them a few sips of water and observe for the symptoms listed above.
Animal feces can carry certain bacteria and viruses, so a person should let a medical practitioner know if they suspect that the child has ingested animal feces.
If a person is unsure about what they, or a child, has ingested, they should contact a medical professional immediately. They can also call a poison center for information.
Anyone experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or other worrisome symptoms should seek medical attention for advice and treatment.
Urine can contain bacteria and yeasts.
Some countries even use “urine therapy” to treat certain medical conditions.
One 2010 study indicates that this may introduce antibiotic resistant bacteria to a person. For this reason, among others, the researchers advise against this practice — especially as the potential benefits are unconfirmed.
Sometimes, there can be medical benefits associated with feces.
For example, health professionals can perform fecal transplantation in people who have recurrent Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile) colitis. C. difficile is an infection that causes diarrhea and inflammation in the colon. It affects almost half a million people in the U.S. every year.
Fecal transplantation involves a health professional delivering feces from a donor into a person with the infection. They do this by inserting a flexible tube, called a colonoscope, into the colon.
The donor will undergo screening before the procedure to make sure that they do not have any infections themselves and that the feces is healthy.
This procedure is also known as “fecal bacteriotherapy.” By introducing a healthier, more diverse range of good bacteria from the donor, doctors aim to reduce inflammation in the other person’s colon.
Some research indicates that fecal transplantation can resolve up to 90% of C. difficile cases. Scientists have also explored it for other conditions, with mixed results. It is currently only available to some people with recurrent C. difficile infections.
Fecal transplantation is a way of treating certain infections. Future research might indicate that there are further benefits for other conditions.
However, outside of a medical setting, ingesting feces can lead to illness and infections. This can cause mild symptoms, but some may be severe.
A person can try to avoid infection by practicing good hygiene. This involves washing the hands after coming into contact with other humans, animals, soil, and objects that may expose a person to feces.
Cooking food properly, washing vegetables, and storing refrigerated food appropriately can all help prevent food poisoning.
If a person thinks that a child has consumed feces, they should contact their doctor or poison center.