Can someone get an infection through infected feces?

In short, yes. You can get an infection through contact with infected feces. However, the ingestion of the pathogen is required. Therefore, you cannot get an infection by touching infected feces. Make sure you wash properly with water and soap. But what if you have already touched your mouth and potentially ingested a pathogen?

Main routes of disease transmission

There are seven main routes of disease transmission, according to WHO:

  • Air droplet. In this route of transmission, the infected individual coughs, breaths out, or sneezes the pathogen. Other individuals breathe it in and get infected. 
  • Fecal-oral. In this route of transmission, the infected individual excretes the pathogen through the gut, and another person ingests it. 
  • Sexual. In this route of transmission, the infected individual spreads the pathogen through blood or sexual fluids to another person. 
  • Vector-borne. This route of transmission requires a vector which is necessary for the survival of the pathogen. 
  • Blood. In this route of transmission, the infected individual spreads the disease through the blood to another person's bloodstream. 
  • Unclear wound. In this route of transmission, the pathogen enters the body through an open wound. 
  • Mother to child. In this route of transmission, the mother passes on the disease to her child through pregnancy and delivery. 

What is the fecal-oral route?

The fecal-oral route is a specific route of pathogen transmission, in which an individual ingests the infected particles that come from feces, through the mouth. The ingested pathogen can be a virus, a parasite, or a bacterium. 

What does it have to do with sex?

Water contamination is almost always the classical cause of the fecal-oral route of disease transmission. It usually is the result of human or animal waste. However, this is not the only way an individual can catch such a disease. Some sexual acts may put you at high risk for fecal-oral transmission of an STD or other types of infections. Rimming and oral sex are the two most risky sexual practices when it comes to the fecal-oral route of transmission. 

Rimming is the oral stimulation of the anus. The person performing rimming tries to relax the anal muscles of the other individual, offering pleasure. This sexual act could be risky, as it could transfer bacteria or other pathogens to the oral cavity and finally to the gut of the person performing it. However, dental dams or other barriers can prevent the spread of diseases. 

Also, if a couple has unprotected anal sex and then switch to oral, ingestion of bacteria and other pathogens is possible. 

Which STDs can spread through the fecal-oral route?

The sexually transmitted diseases that can spread through the fecal-oral route are the following:

  • Hepatitis A and E. Hepatitis A and E, associated with fecal-borne hepatitis, are different from B and C. However, they all cause liver disease and may lead to life-threatening complications. 
  • Herpes. Herpes is a viral infection that may be genital (HSV-2) or oral (HSV-1). It spreads by skin-to-skin contact and requires antiviral medication. 
  • Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial STD that spreads through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is easily treatable with antibiotics. 
  • HPV. HPV is a viral STD that has various strains. Some of them resolve on their own while others stay in the body forever, leading to chronic discomfort. Also, some viral types can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Bacterial diseases. Other bacterial infections can spread through anal-oral contact as well, causing enteric problems. 

Are there any other ways except for contaminated water and sex?

Yes, there are. If a person that prepares your food goes to the bathroom and fails to wash their hands, you might ingest the pathogens found on the dirty hands. Also, you can ingest your own bacteria, if not washing your hands before eating. Although dirty hands and contaminated water are the two most common ways of fecal-route disease transmission, people seem to forget that you can directly ingest pathogens when having sex with an infected individual. 

How to practice safe oral-anal contact

It is significant to practice safe sex and use barriers when having sex, also when it comes to oral sex or rimming. STDs are not the only concern. Through unprotected oral-anal contact you can ingest bacteria that live in the gut of your partner, leading to bothering gastrointestinal infections. Except for mechanical barriers, individuals should have high personal hygiene. When we do not wash as often as we should, bacteria start accumulating and multiplying in number, making infection more likely. 

How to avoid STDs in general

To prevent catching an STD you have to practice safe and avoid certain risky behaviors. In general, you can follow the next steps:

  • Always use a condom or other types of mechanical barriers to protect yourself and others from STDs.
  • Screen yourself regularly for STDs at home, with STD rapid test kits.
  • Try to be monogamous.
  • Try not to have a partner that has multiple partners. 
  • Make sure you have proper personal hygiene.

What to do if you think you got infected by a pathogen during sex

Do not wait until symptoms appear. Most STDs are asymptomatic. Also, leaving an STD undetected and untreated can lead to life-threatening complications. If you think you got exposed to an STD, get tested with an STD rapid test kit. They are diagnostic and screening methods that accurately provide you with results after fifteen minutes. Your partner should get tested as well. If your results are positive, make sure to consult your doctor and get the proper medical attention and treatment. STDs left untreated can spread to other people and lead to severe, irreversible complications.