I received the following question yesterday:
For approximately 20 years I have been involved in waste collection for the Parks Division. A considerable amount of the waste which I collect on a daily basis is dog excrement. This is usually, but not always contained in a plastic bag and thrown into a large garbage barrel which I man-handle and dump in a waste truck. Years ago I contacted the local Health Unit and asked if there was any special health risks associated with this job. They advised me at that time the main danger to health would be with E.coli contamination. I use neoprene gloves while carrying out my duties and of course try to ensure that I do not come in contact with any debris. This is not always possible.
There are 3 main risks with handling dog stool: exposure to bacteria that cause diarrhea, exposure to intestinal parasites and infection of wounds.
Various bacteria that can cause diarrhea can be present in dog stool. These include Salmonella and Campylobacter. E. coli is not a major concern because strains found in dogs are not typically those that cause disease in people. A few intestinal parasites are also of concern, including Giardia and roundworms. The risk of exposure to these is hard to say because you don’t know anything about the health status of the dogs, but it’s wise to treat all stool as infectious. However, for these to cause disease, they must go from the garbage and into your mouth. The risk of this should be minimal with basic common-sense precautions.
A large number of bacteria present in stool can cause infections of wounds like cuts and scratches, or other skin lesions such as eczema. Direct contact of these lesions with stool would be required to cause infection. The risks of this can also be greatly reduced with basic preventative measures.
Some basic precautions (many of which you are doing) include:
- Wear gloves when handling bags containing stool.
- Change your gloves if they become contaminated with stool.
- Have your gloves cleaned periodically, and whenever they become contaminated. Otherwise, use disposable gloves.
- Promptly wash or disinfect your hands if they become contaminated. Carrying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your truck would be useful.
- Wear coveralls or some other sort of outerwear that can be removed easily if contaminated. If your clothing becomes contaminated, change it (and wash your hands after).
- Wash your hands after removing your gloves (and especially before eating).
Overall, the risks to you should be very low.