Zuccotti Park, in New York City, has been ‘home’ to the thousands of people participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” protests since September 17, 2011. When so many people live in a small area, particularly an area that is not equipped for human habitation, sanitation issues and health issues become a concern. Without proper hand-washing and restroom facilities, protesters face sanitation issues that may lead to illness. Local citizens, and businesses who support the protesters, have provided bathroom facilities, but some protesters are urinating and defecating in public, according to the New York Post and the Daily Mail, among others. When not using a proper restroom, it’s unlikely that protesters are washing their hands thoroughly – the combination of human waste and unwashed hands leaves room for diseases to occur.
Fecal-Oral Disease Transmission
Diseases can occur when fecal matter is ingested; this mode of transmission is called the fecal-oral route. When this occurs people can get very sick. Microscopic traces of fecal particles are sometimes found on the hands after using the restroom. If you don’t wash your hands, you can transfer these particles to food and other surfaces such door knobs and keyboards, which leads to transmission to others. If you touch a contaminated object, and then put your hands near or in your mouth, you can become infected with fecal matter. Water supplies can also be contaminated with fecal matter; when contaminated water is consumed, it can also make you sick. There are many diseases that you can get from ingesting fecal matter, such as: giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and shigellosis.
Giardiasis is an illness caused by the parasite, Giardia intestinalis. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), giardiasis is the most common intestinal parasite in the United States. When a person becomes infected, some will show signs and symptoms, while others will not. Symptoms include:
- Greasy, floating stool
- Upset stomach accompanied by nausea and vomiting
Giardiasis can also lead to dehydration because of the loss of fluids and electrolytes lost in diarrhea and vomiting. In some cases symptoms will go away, only to return a few day or weeks later. In most cases, symptoms last one to two weeks. Protesters who do not wash their hands after using the restroom can spread disease by contaminate surfaces in the park, as well as food if they are involved in preparing, serving, or even sharing food items.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes the disease cryptosporidiosis, also known as crypto. Cryptosporidiosis is one of the most common water-borne diseases in the United States, according to theCDC. Cryptosporidium can live in the intestinal tract of humans and animals – when stool is passed, so are the parasite’s cells. People can become infected by other humans or any other animals. Cryptosporidiosis is also spread by the fecal-oral route, so not washing hands after using the restroom, drinking contaminated water, and/or eating contaminated foods can make people very sick.
Symptoms begin, on average, seven days after contracting the parasite. However, not everyone will experience symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea which can lead to dehydration
- Weight loss
These symptoms can last one to two weeks and can reoccur for up to 30 days. Protesters can come in contact with cryptosporidiosis due to a simple lack of hygiene, but animals also carry this parasite. When living in a park, you have a greater risk of coming in contact with animal feces.
Shigellosis AKA Dysentry Risks in Zuccotti Park
Shigella is a group of bacteria that cause an infection in the lining of the intestines. Shigellosis, also called dysentery or Marlow Syndrome, is common in places where the population has poor hygiene. According to the CDC, there are about 14,000 cases of dysentry reported every year in the United States. Since milder cases are often underreported, the CDC estimates that the actual number of cases may be 20 times greater. According to Medline Plus,symptoms of Marlow Syndrome begin about three days after coming in contact with the bacteria, and can last from two to seven days. Symptoms can include:
- Sudden abdominal pain and cramping
- Sudden fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- Watery diarrhea
- Blood, mucus or pus in the stool
Shigellosis spreads quickly through a group, even from a single contaminated person, if preventive measures are not taken. The Shigella dyasenteriae bacterum is passed through stool, so if any infected person does not wash his hands, and then touches any surface or prepares food, he can spread it to others.
Hygiene Is Key to Health During Live-in Protests
Each of these diseases can be prevented through the practice of careful hand-washing and good hygiene. Outbreaks among the protesters could also spread beyond the borders of Zuccotti Park, so the health of protesters is a concern to everyone in the region. If you plan to attend the protest, avoid unsanitary conditions, wash your hands frequently, eat only packaged food and drink only bottled water.