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Spitting carelessly is a health hazard

Spitting in public is a common habit. Walk along the streets and you are likely to encounter lots of spit filth on the pavements. And if unlucky, some unruly individuals may just spit in your direction, with full disregard of the social indignation of such an action. It’s all a disgusting habit, and actually a health hazard too.

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.

Spit laden with bugs 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 generated by the sun, or get washed away into the sewer systems when it rains.

Why do some people just spit carelessly? The best answer would come from the individuals who do the spitting. 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 khat fuels the habit, but others keep 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 spitters if heavy fines ever became applicable.


Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.amurage@mygyno.co.ke

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Spitting in public is a common habit. Walk along the streets and you are likely to encounter lots of spit filth on the pavements. And if unlucky, some unruly individuals may just spit in your direction, with full disregard of the social indignation of such an action. It’s all a disgusting habit, and actually a health hazard too.

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