The Detroit Post
Sunday, 28 November, 2021

Can You Fart And

Paul Gonzalez
• Friday, 01 January, 2021
• 20 min read

Perhaps you got wind of the question that Norman Swan asked on a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) podcast : can farts transmit the COVID-19 coronavirus? Yes, farts, those natural gas emissions that come from everyone else’s behinds but yours.

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Are there scientific reasons to even consider this as a possibility or is such speculation all simply hot air? Testing has found that the SARS-CoV2 can be present in fecal material, which is a scientific way of saying poop.

Even when you don’t have diarrhea, farts, also known as flatulence or backdoor breezes, can come in lots of different varieties, ranging from tiny toots to rather wet ones. But clumps of bacteria eventually appeared in the Petri dish after the subject had farted while butt naked, meaning that the subject’s butt was exposed without pants.

In this case, single means one, although “farted without pants into a Petri dish” may not be the best thing to list on your dating profile. The latter experiment would be very, very difficult to recruit for, no matter how many gift cards you promised.

As you may have heard, some farts can come out like Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. Regarding the floating issue, you ’ve probably walked into an empty room and determined quickly, that “someone farted in here.” It’s certainly a way that someone can leave a longer-lasting impression.

Nonetheless, while a smell suggests that something is still hanging in the air, that something may not necessarily be microbes. Frankly, compared with other more studied areas, the state of fart science kind of stinks.


A study suggested that garments such as pants may be able to catch microbes coming out during a ... fart. GettyRegardless, even if farts were to propel the virus, don’t hold your breath for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) to get behind any substantial warning about farts.

That’s because as Swan indicated, “Luckily, we wear a mask, which covers our farts all the time.” Note that this doesn’t mean that people are putting N95 respirators on their booties. Rather, Swan was referring to pants, dresses, underwear, and other things like barrels that are typically used to cover the butt.

This prompted Swan to make the following recommendation: “I think what we should do in terms of social distancing and being safe is that policy on the part of the entire Australian population should be that you don’t fart close to other people, and that you don’t fart with your bottom bare.” To this, Stephen Colbert responded, “I’m hoping that’s pretty much always the advice,” in an episode of The Late Show seen here: Plus, trying to whip your elbow down quickly enough to catch the fart could lead to some serious head injuries.

After all, your elbow is usually not as accessible to your butt as it is to your mouth, unless you are doing some kind of twisty yoga pose. The bottom line: although farting can push out air rapidly like coughing and sneezing, it is still not exactly the same.

So as long as you use some common sense and courtesy, don’t worry too much about farting, at least when it comes to spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus. I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order.


… Read More am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am a Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (Puny) School of Public Health, Executive Director of Prior (@PHICORteam), Professor By Courtesy at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, and founder and CEO of Symbolic.

My previous positions include serving as Executive Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOP) at Johns Hopkins University, Associate Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Senior Manager at Quin tiles Transnational, working in biotechnology equity research at Montgomery Securities, and co-founding a biotechnology/bioinformatics company. My work has included developing computational approaches, models, and tools to help health and healthcare decision makers in all continents (except for Antarctica) and has been supported by a wide variety of sponsors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the NIH, AHQ, CDC, UNICEF, Said and the Global Fund.

Follow me on Twitter (Bruce_y_lee) but don’t ask me if I know martial arts. During Friday’s episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Corona cast” podcast, producer and host Dr. Norman Swan made a cautionary suggestion when it comes to particles of feces set adrift within a fart and the spread of COVID-19.

Shutterstock“Luckily, we wear a mask, which covers our farts all the time,” Swan said, referring to the protective aspects of pants, shorts, dresses, underwear and other garments. A recent study, in fact, suggested a post-flush toilet plume could even because for concern when it comes to spreading the coronavirus via “aerosolized feces.” Plus, scientists have confirmed that fecal-oral transmission itself is an issue due to the presence of the virus in poop, which is why health officials in Oregon and New York have even cautioned against oral contact with feces during sex.

Bodily function of expelling intestinal gas out of the anus FlatulenceOther trespassing gas, farting, breaking windIllustration of man suffering from “wind” Specialty Gastroenterology Flatulence is defined in the medical literature as “flatus expelled through the anus or the “quality or state of being flatulent”, which is defined in turn as “marked by or affected with gases generated in the intestine or stomach; likely to cause digestive flatulence”.

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Despite these standard definitions, a proportion of intestinal gas may be swallowed environmental air, and hence flatus is not totally generated in the stomach or bowels. The scientific study of this area of medicine is termed scatology.

Flatus is brought to the rectum and pressurized by muscles in the intestines. It is normal to pass flatus, though volume and frequency vary greatly among individuals.

It is also normal for intestinal gas to have a recent odor, which may be intense. The noise commonly associated with flatulence (“ blowing a raspberry “) is produced by the anus and buttocks, which act together in a manner similar to that of an embouchure.

Both the sound and the smell are sources of embarrassment, annoyance or flatulence humor. There are several general symptoms related to intestinal gas: pain, bloating and abdominal distension, excessive flatus volume, excessive flatus smell, and gas incontinence.

Furthermore, eructation (“an act or instance of belching”, colloquially known as “burping”) is sometimes included under the topic of flatulence. When excessive or malodorous, flatus can be a sign of a health disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or lactose intolerance.

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These definitions highlight that many people consider “bloating”, abdominal distension or increased volume of intestinal gas, to be synonymous with the term flatulence (although this is technically inaccurate). Colloquially, flatulence may be referred to as “farting”, “pumping”, “trumping”, “blowing off”, “tooting”, “painting”, “passing gas”, “breaking wind” or simply (in American English) “gas” or (British English) “wind”.

Derived terms include vaginal flatulence, otherwise known as a Queen. Generally speaking, there are four different types of complaints that relate to intestinal gas, which may present individually or in combination.

Patients may complain of bloating as abdominal distension, discomfort and pain from “trapped wind”. In the past, functional bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome that produced symptoms of bloating were attributed to increased production of intestinal gas.

First, in normal subjects, even very high rates of gas infusion into the small intestine (30mL/min) is tolerated without complaints of pain or bloating and harmlessly passed as flatus per rectum. Secondly, studies aiming to quantify the total volume of gas produced by patients with irritable bowel syndrome (some including gas emitted from the mouth by eructation) have consistently failed to demonstrate increased volumes compared to healthy subjects.

The proportion of hydrogen produced may be increased in some patients with irritable bowel syndrome, but this does not affect the total volume. Thirdly, the volume of flatus produced by patients with irritable bowel syndrome who have pain and abdominal distension would be tolerated in normal subjects without any complaints of pain.

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The increase in girth combined with the fact that the total volume of flatus is not increased led to studies aiming to image the distribution of intestinal gas in patients with bloating. In conclusion, abdominal distension, pain and bloating symptoms are the result of abnormal intestinal gas dynamics rather than increased flatus production.

All intestinal gas is either swallowed environmental air, present intrinsically in foods and beverages, or the result of gut fermentation. Swallowing small amounts of air occurs while eating and drinking.

Excessive swallowing of environmental air is called aerophobia, and has been shown in a few case reports to be responsible for increased flatus volume. This is, however, considered a rare cause of increased flatus volume.

Endogenously produced intestinal gases make up 74 percent of flatus in normal subjects. The volume of gas produced is partially dependent upon the composition of the intestinal microbiota, which is normally very resistant to change, but is also very different in different individuals.

Some patients are predisposed to increased endogenous gas production by virtue of their gut microbiota composition. The greatest concentration of gut bacteria is in the colon, while the small intestine is normally nearly sterile.

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Fermentation occurs when absorbed food residues may arrive in the colon. Therefore, even more than the composition of the microbiota, diet is the primary factor that dictates the volume of flatus produced.

Diets that aim to reduce the amount of undigested fermentable food residues arriving in the colon have been shown to significantly reduce the volume of flatus produced. Again, increased volume of intestinal gas will not cause bloating and pain in normal subjects.

Abnormal intestinal gas dynamics will create pain, distension, and bloating, regardless of whether there is high or low total flatus volume. Increased smell of flatus presents a distinct clinical issue from other complaints related to intestinal gas.

“Gas incontinence” could be defined as loss of voluntary control over the passage of flatus. It is a recognized subtype of fecal incontinence, and is usually related to minor disruptions of the continence mechanisms.

The exogenous gases are swallowed (aerophobia) when eating or drinking or increased swallowing during times of excessive salivation (as might occur when nauseated or as the result of gastroesophageal reflux disease). Anything that causes food to be incompletely digested by the stomach or small intestine may cause flatulence when the material arrives in the large intestine, due to fermentation by yeast or prokaryotes normally or abnormally present in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Flatulence-producing foods are typically high in certain polysaccharides, especially oligosaccharides such as insulin. Those foods include beans, lentils, dairy products, onions, garlic, spring onions, leeks, turnips, swedes, radishes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, cashews, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, wheat, and yeast in breads.

Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other calciferous vegetables that belong to the genus Brassier are commonly reputed to not only increase flatulence, but to increase the pungency of the flatus. Flatus (intestinal gas) is mostly produced as a byproduct of bacterial fermentation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, especially the colon.

These include oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. Nitrogen is not produced in the gut, but a component of environmental air.

Patients who have excessive intestinal gas that is mostly composed of nitrogen have aerophobia. Hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane are all produced in the gut and contribute 74% of the volume of flatus in normal subjects.

Methane and hydrogen are flammable, and so flatus can be ignited if it contains adequate amounts of these components. For example, in one study of the feces of nine adults, only five of the samples contained archaea capable of producing methane.

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The prevalence of methane over hydrogen in human farts may correlate with obesity, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, as archaea that oxidize hydrogen into methane promote the metabolism's ability to absorb fatty acids from food. In one study, hydrogen sulfide concentration was shown to correlate convincingly with perceived bad smell of flatus, followed by methyl merchantman and dimethyl sulfide.

This is supported by the fact that hydrogen sulfide may be the most abundant volatile sulfur compound present. These results were generated from subjects who were eating a diet high in pinto beans to stimulate flatus production.

Others report that methyl merchantman was the greatest contributor to the smell of flatus in patients not under any specific dietary alterations. It has now been demonstrated that methyl merchantman, dimethyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide (described as decomposing vegetables, unpleasantly sweet/wild radish and rotten eggs respectively) are all present in human flatus in concentrations above their smell perception thresholds.

Diets high in protein, especially sulfur-containing amino acids, have been demonstrated to significantly increase the smell of flatus. The volume of flatus associated with each flatulence event again varies (5–375 mL).

The volume of the first flatulence upon waking in the morning is significantly larger than those during the day. This may be due to buildup of intestinal gas in the colon during sleep, the peak in peristaltic activity in the first few hours after waking or the strong pro kinetic effect of rectal distension on the rate of transit of intestinal gas.

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It is now known that gas is moved along the gut independently of solids and liquids, and this transit is more efficient in the erect position compared to when supine. It is thought that large volumes of intestinal gas present low resistance, and can be propelled by subtle changes in gut tone, capacitance and proximal contraction and distal relaxation.

This process is thought not to affect solid and liquid intraluminal contents. Researchers investigating the role of sensory nerve endings in the anal canal did not find them to be essential for retaining fluids in the anus, and instead speculate that their role may be to distinguish between flatus and feces, thereby helping detect a need to defecate or to signal the end of defecation.

The sound varies depending on the tightness of the sphincter muscle and velocity of the gas being propelled, as well as other factors, such as water and body fat. The auditory pitch (sound) of the flatulence outburst can also be affected by the anal embouchure.

Among humans, flatulence occasionally happens accidentally, such as incidentally to coughing or sneezing or during orgasm ; on other occasions, flatulence can be voluntarily elicited by tensing the rectum or “bearing down” on stomach or bowel muscles and subsequently relaxing the anal sphincter, resulting in the expulsion of flatus. Since problems involving intestinal gas present as different (but sometimes combined) complaints, the management is cause-related.

While not affecting the production of the gases themselves, surfactants (agents that lower surface tension) can reduce the disagreeable sensations associated with flatulence, by aiding the dissolution of the gases into liquid and solid fecal matter. Preparations containing simethicone reportedly operate by promoting the coalescence of smaller bubbles into larger ones more easily passed from the body, either by burping or flatulence.

Such preparations do not decrease the total amount of gas generated in or passed from the colon, but make the bubbles larger and thereby allowing them to be passed more easily. Other drugs including pro kinetics, lubiprostone, antibiotics and probiotics are also used to treat bloating in patients with functional bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, and there is some evidence that these measures may reduce symptoms.

A flexible tube, inserted into the rectum, can be used to collect intestinal gas in a flatus bag. This method is occasionally needed in a hospital setting, when the patient is unable to pass gas normally.

Certain spices have been reported to counteract the production of intestinal gas, most notably the closely related cumin, coriander, caraway, fennel and others such as again, turmeric, asafoetida (hing), epidote, and kombukelp (a Japanese seaweed). Most starches, including potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat, produce gas as they are broken down in the large intestine.

Intestinal gas can be reduced by fermenting the beans, and making them less gas-inducing, or by cooking them in the liquor from a previous batch. For example, the fermented bean product miss is less likely to produce as much intestinal gas.

Some legumes also stand up to prolonged cooking, which can help break down the oligosaccharides into simple sugars. Digestive enzyme supplements may significantly reduce the amount of flatulence caused by some components of foods not being digested by the body and thereby promoting the action of microbes in the small and large intestines.

It has been suggested that alpha-galactosidaseenzymes, which can digest certain complex sugars, are effective in reducing the volume and frequency of flatus. The enzymesalpha-galactosidase, lactate, amylase, lipase, protease, cellulose, glucoamylase, inverse, malt diastase, pectin, and porcelain are available, either individually or in combination blends, in commercial products.

Smell from flatulence is commonly treated with bismuth sucralfate, available over-the-counter in the US as Devon. Bismuth salicylate is a compound that binds hydrogen sulfide, and one study reported a dose of 524 mg four times a day for 3–7 days bismuth salicylate yielded a >95% reduction in fecal hydrogen sulfide release in both humans and rats.

Another study showed that bismuth acted synergistically with various antibiotics to inhibit sulfate-reducing gut bacteria and sulfide production. Some authors proposed a theory that hydrogen sulfide was involved in the development of ulcerative colitis and that bismuth might be helpful in the management of this condition.

However, bismuth administration in rats did not prevent them from developing ulcerative colitis despite reduced hydrogen sulfide production. Rarely, serious bismuth toxicity may occur with higher doses.

Despite being an ancient treatment for various digestive complaints, activated charcoal did not produce reduction in both the total flatus volume nor the release of sulfur-containing gasses, and there was no reduction in abdominal symptoms (after 0.52g activated charcoal four times a day for one week). The authors suggested that saturation of charcoal binding sites during its passage through the gut was the reason for this.

A further study concluded that activated charcoal (4g) does not influence gas formation in vitro or in vivo. A study in 8 dogs concluded activated charcoal (unknown oral dose) reduced hydrogen sulfide levels by 71%.

In combination with yucca schidigera, and zinc acetate, this was increased to an 86% reduction in hydrogen sulfide, although flatus volume and number was unchanged. An early study reported activated charcoal (unknown oral dose) prevented a large increase in the number of flatus events and increased breath hydrogen concentrations that normally occur following a gas-producing meal.

The inventors, Myra and Brian Conan of Militant, Hawaii, still claim on their website to have discovered the undergarment product in 2002 (four years after Chester Water filed for a patent for his product), but state that their tests “concluded” that they should release an insert instead. Degassed (detail), an art scroll depicting a battle of flatulence, from Japan during the Do period In many cultures, flatulence in public is regarded as embarrassing, but, depending on context, can also be considered humorous.

While the act of passing flatus in said cultures is generally considered to be an unfortunate occurrence in public settings, flatulence may, in casual circumstances and especially among children, be used as either a humorous supplement to a joke (“ pull my finger “), or as a comic activity in and of itself. The social acceptability of flatulence-based humor in entertainment and the mass media varies over the course of time and between cultures.

Enough entertainers performed with their flatus that the term philatelist was coined. The whoopee cushion is a joking device invented in the early 20th century for simulating a fart.

A farting game named Touch Wood was documented by John Gregory Burke in the 1890s. It existed under the name of Safety in the 20th century in the U.S., and has been found being played in 2011.

Cows also burp methane, due to the physiology of their digestive systems. Flatulence is often blamed as a significant source of greenhouse gases, owing to the erroneous belief that the methane released by livestock is in the flatus. While livestock account for around 20% of global methane emissions, 90–95% of that is released by exhaling or burping.

Proposals for reducing methane production in cows include the feeding of supplements such as oregano and seaweed, and the genetic engineering of gut biome microbes to produce less methane. Since New Zealand produces large amounts of agricultural products, it is in the unique position of having high methane emissions from livestock compared to other greenhouse gas sources.

The New Zealand government is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and therefore attempts are being made to reduce greenhouse emissions. Historical comment on the ability to fart at will is observed as early as Saint Augustine's The City of God (5th century A.D.).

Augustine mentions men who “have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, to produce the effect of singing”. Intentional passing of gas and its use as entertainment for others appear to have been somewhat well known in pre-modern Europe, according to mentions of it in medieval and later literature, including Rabelais.

Le Ptomaine (“the Pyromaniac”) was a famous French performer in the 19th century who, as well as many professional farmers before him, did flatulence impressions and held shows. The performer Mr. Methane carries on LE Ptomaine's tradition today.

Also, a 2002 fiction film Th underpants revolves around a boy named Patrick Smash who has an ongoing flatulence problem from the time of his birth. He eventually overcomes his problems and fulfills his dreams, including one of becoming an astronaut.

In Islam, flatulence invalidates wide (ritual purity). “Measurement and biological significance of the volatile sulfur compounds hydrogen sulfide, bethanechol and dimethyl sulfide in various biological matrices”.

“Spin's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence”. Bruce G. Wolff; James W. Freshman; David E. Beck; John H. Emberton; Steven D. Werner, eds.

(2007), The SCRS textbook of colon and rectal surgery, New York: Springer Publishing, ISBN 978-0-387-24846-2 ^ “Gas in the Digestive Tract”. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“Investigation of normal flatus production in healthy volunteers”. “Aerophobia: excessive air swallowing demonstrated by esophageal impedance monitoring”.

^ a b c d Levitt, MD; Furze, J; Aeolus, MR; Suarez, FL (November 1998). “Evaluation of an extremely flatulent patient: case report and proposed diagnostic and therapeutic approach”.

“Insights into human colonic physiology obtained from the study of flatus composition”. Pigmented, Mark; Robert P Gunwales; Salish SC Ran; Husen Zhang (2012).

^ Suarez, FL; Springfield, J; Levitt, MD (July 1998). “Review article: the treatment of functional abdominal bloating and distension”.

Stauncher, HM; Wherein, K; Irving, PM; Lower, MC (October 2011). “Comparison of symptom response following advice for a diet low in fermentable carbohydrates (Formats) versus standard dietary advice in patients with irritable bowel syndrome”.

^ Gaits TG; Norcross WA; Hankerson AL; Buford PA; Salinas LA (1994). A double-blind crossover study of oral alpha-galactosidase to treat dietary oligosaccharide intolerance”.

^ Di Stefano M; Stretch A; Malservisi S; Vent G; Ferrari A; Corazón GR (2000). “Non-absorbable antibiotics for managing intestinal gas production and gas-related symptoms”.

“Bismuth salicylate markedly decreases hydrogen sulfide release in the human colon”. ^ Levitt, MD; Springfield, J; Furze, J; Koenig, T; Suarez, FL (April 2002).

^ OGE, H; Furze, JK; Springfield, J; Sued, T; Ma doff, RD; Levitt, MD (November 7, 2003). “The effect of antibiotics and bismuth on fecal hydrogen sulfide and sulfate-reducing bacteria in the rat”.

^ a b Furze, JK; Suarez, FL; Ewing, SL; Springfield, J; Levitt, MD (July 2000). “Binding of hydrogen sulfide by bismuth does not prevent extra sulfate-induced colitis in rats”.

^ Gordon, MF; Abrams, RI; Rubin, DB; Barr, WB; Cornea, DD (March 1995). “Bismuth salicylate toxicity as a cause of prolonged encephalopathy with cyclones”.

^ Suarez, FL; Furze, J; Springfield, J; Levitt, MD (January 1999). “Failure of activated charcoal to reduce the release of gases produced by the colonic flora”.

“Activated charcoal: in vivo and in vitro studies of effect on gas formation”. Gifford, CJ; Collins, SB; Stooled, NC; Butter wick, RF; Matt, RM (March 15, 2001).

“Administration of charcoal, Yucca schidigera, and zinc acetate to reduce malodorous flatulence in dogs”. ^ Hall Kg, Jr; Thompson, H; Brother, A (March 1981).

“Effects of orally administered activated charcoal on intestinal gas”. “Penn State professor's essay on farting takes the prize”.

Trevor Blank found Pennsylvania boys playing “Safety,” a farting game, the same as Blank had as a kid in Maryland, and the same game John Burke documented in the 1890s, when it was called “Touch Wood.” Basically, a boy who farts must say “Safety” or touch wood before his friends say another key phrase.

^ ABC Southern Queensland: “Could Skippy stop cows farting and end global warming?” Archived October 14, 2007, at the Payback Machine ^ Noway, Rachel (September 24, 2004).

Allen, V. (2007) On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages. Perseus, J., & GANIL, R. (2004) Fecal Matters in Early Modern Literature and Art: Studies in Scatology.

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