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Public spitting, a nuisance or health hazard?

Spitting in public is not an uncommon habit. Walk along Nairobi streets and you are more likely to encounter lots of spit filth on the streets. And if unlucky, some unruly Nairobian may just spit in your direction, with full disregard of the social indignation of such an action. Should public spitting be equated to public peeing which has recently become punishable by law?

The question that arises is whether public spitting is just a disgusting nuisance, rather than a public health concern. There is no doubt that secretions from the mouth and throat harbour lots of organisms. Respiratory tract infectious bacteria and viruses are easily transmitted through spit from infected individuals.

The worst are chronic and contagious diseases like TB. In fact, dangers of passing respiratory diseases via public spitting were already well recognised in the 1800s. The City of New York famously passed a law way back in 1901 to outlaw public spitting in attempts to control the spread of TB and other respiratory diseases.

Bacteria and virus laden spit can theoretically be a transit vessel of infections from one host to another. The worst is when bits of the spit land onto another individual and penetrate the body surface through broken skin or even via the eyes. Spit particles can also find their way by being inhaled directly into the lungs through breathing. This happens more in crowded streets, bus stations and other over-crowded public places.

The saving grace is that most organisms in spit will die from ultraviolet rays from the sun, or get washed away into the sewer systems when it rains.

Why do Nairobians find it acceptable to spread their spit about? The best answer would come from individuals who make spitting a habit. But we can borrow from a 2010 study in India which reported that the majority of people knew spitting is disgusting and a potential health hazard, but they would still not give up the habit!Chewing tobacco and miraa fuels the habit, but others just have the habit of clearing their throats and publicly depositing the filth anywhere and anyhowly. City streets, corridors, landings and even confined spaces like lifts become choice places for spit filth.

Simply swallowing your throat secretions is not harmful. The stomach juices easily digest the material and destroy harmful organisms, eventually coming out as waste through the other end. If you must spit, carry around some disposable tissue or a handkerchief for god’s sake. And if you forget, you could always spit onto your garments and allow everything to dry. It’s more dignifying and good mannered that way. A by-law against public spitting is very difficult to police and enforce, as some cities in Europe have found out. But it may just discourage habitual spittersif heavy fines ever became applicable.

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Spitting in public is not an uncommon habit. Walk along Nairobi streets and you are more likely to encounter lots of spit filth on the streets.

And if unlucky, some unruly Nairobian may just spit in your direction, with full disregard of the social indignation of such an action.

Should public spitting be equated to public peeing which has recently become punishable by law?

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