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First discovered in the 1890s by a Russian scientist, viruses are among the simplest and smallest of life forms. Many scientists don't even consider them to be organisms. They are much smaller and simpler than bacteria (some viruses are parasitic to bacteria), and the simplest form may consist only of an RNA molecule. By definition, a virus is an entity which contains the information necessary for its own replication, but does not possess the physical elements for such replication - they have the software, but not the hardware. In order to reproduce, therefore, viruses rely on the hardware of the infected host cell, which is re-programmed by the virus in order to reproduce viral nucleic acid. As such, viruses cannot reproduce outside the host cell.14

There are more than 140 types of viruses worldwide that can be passed through human feces, including polioviruses, coxsackieviruses (causing meningitis and myocarditis), echoviruses (causing meningitis and enteritis), reovirus (causing enteritis), adenovirus (causing respiratory illness), infectious hepatitis (causing jaundice), and others (see Table 7.3). During periods of infection, one hundred million to one trillion viruses can be excreted with each gram of fecal material.15

Table 7.3


Virus Disease Can Carrier Be Symptomless?
Adenoviruses varies yes
Coxsackievirus varies yes
Echoviruses varies yes
Hepatitis A Infectious hepatitis yes
Polioviruses Poliomyelitis yes
Reoviruses varies yes
Rotaviruses Diarrhea yes

Rotaviruses may be responsible for the majority of infant diarrheas. Hepatitis A causes infectious hepatitis, often without symptoms, especially in children.
Coxsackievirus infection can lead to meningitis, fevers, respiratory diseases, paralysis, and myocarditis. Echovirus infection can cause simple fever, meningitis, diarrhea, or respiratory illness. Most poliovirus infections don't give rise to any clinical illness, although sometimes infection causes a mild, influenza-like illness which may lead to virus-meningitis, paralytic poliomyelitis, permanent disability, or death. It's estimated that almost everyone in developing countries becomes infected with poliovirus, and that one out of every thousand poliovirus infections leads to paralytic poliomyelitis.

Source: Feachem et al., 1980

Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.

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weblife.org | library | Humanure Handbook | Chapter 7: Viruses