The other day, my iPhone rudely informed me that I couldn’t open a new tab on my browser because I already have 500 open. Curious, I began to skim through the older ones, wondering which pages I’d deemed important enough to leave open for such a long period of time. Among countless tabs of fanfiction (will Bellarke ever sail?) and articles, I found a nugget: a 2014 article questioning if farts carry germs.
Immediately I wondered, do they? And if they do, does that mean they could potentially carry the coronavirus?
Can a fart carry COVID-19?
It might sound far-fetched, but a recent study revealed that the coronavirus can be found within fecal matter, even up to 17 days post-exposure. So, is it that much of a stretch to consider if a toot – which is essentially an expulsion of gas or an “aerosol-generating procedure” if you prefer the scientific term – can carry the deadly virus?
Turns out, I’m far from the first to raise this question. In fact, that honor presumably lies with ABC’s Coronacast audience member, David, who posed the same question to the podcast’s resident health expert, Dr. Norman Swan.
Before exploring the correlation between breaking wind and the C-word, let’s circle back to that 2014 article – can farts carry germs? Well, that answer was given in 2001 by Aussie science communicator, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, who discussed it on a Triple J radio show.
“It all started with an enquiry from a nurse,” shared Dr Kruszelnicki on the show. “She wanted to know whether she was contaminating the operating theater she worked in by quietly farting in the sterile environment during operations, and I realized that I didn’t know. But I was determined to find out.”
Don’t fart naked.
After a team-up with microbiologist Luke Tennent and an experiment involving farting into petri dishes, Dr Kruszelnicki satisfied curiosities niche-wide. Farting on the petri dishes took place at a distance of 5cm, one fully-clothed and one fully-nude. The former bore no results, the latter, on the other hand, bore fruit… or well, bacteria. Two types, in fact, the kinds which are found in the gut and on the skin.
The gut bacteria makes sense. Afterall, what is a fart but a stomach’s backdoor? The velocity of the fart, meanwhile, is what’s responsible for skin bacteria to find its way out in the open. That said, one study does little to solidify its findings as many factors – such as the farter’s health, the conditions the petri dish were kept in, how far the molecules can actually travel, and more – were not taken into account.
The bottom line here, however, is to not fart naked, a sentiment Dr. Swan shared in the Coronacast episode.
“Well, luckily, we wear a mask which covers our farts all the time,” quipped Dr. Swan, adding: “What we should do in terms of social distancing and being safe is … [to not] fart close to other people … [or] with your bottom bare.”
Sound advice for these unprecedented times, but also generally good advice, especially as public farting in general isn’t looked too kindly upon (see: Amasis, whose fart started a revolution), let alone if you’re naked and letting one rip well within someone’s personal boundaries – COVID or not, that step won’t play well.
The question remains – can a person’s fart carry COVID-19? To be honest, it’s possible, especially when you consider how diarrhea can be a symptom of the virus, but it’s not like anyone will be a willing recipient to a fart-in-the-face to track whether any form of illness develops.
As long as we keep our butt masks on (read: pants) and continue practicing social distancing, I highly doubt any cases will be caused by tooting.