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How Come this does Not Give Rise to an Epidemic?

  1. Sep 16, 2014 #1


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    And of course, I am glad it doesn't (hasn't yet?) .

    Hi All,
    I see daily people going through trash cans looking for recyclables. These people do not wear gloves, and their hands go through all sorts of trash, including food leftovers. I imagine at some point they may rub their faces with their hands, and they may come into physical contact with many others in many different ways. In my very rudimentary knowledge of Biology and Epidemiology , this seems to provide " perfect storm " conditions for an epidemic. Now, I have seen this going on for years. Why isn't this creating an epidemic?
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  3. Sep 16, 2014 #2
    I'm sure the disease rates of people that forage through dumpsters frequently, and homeless people living in the street and makeshift shantytowns is significantly higher than other human communities.

    But there's a couple things. First, these communities in the large scale picture are relatively rare, and most importantly, isolated, meaning that it is relatively rare that a homeless person goes up and gives a man in a suit a big bearhug or even shakes his hand (without first washing up at least.)

    Even if this did happen, the most common infections from ravishing through dumpsters I would guess would be bacteriological or fungal, and these are easily treated with mainstream medications, they are not going to cause an epidemic.

    More serious diseases such as HIV or hepatitus C are blood borne diseases and are typically not going to be transmitted through even heavy casual contact.

    Finally, any other more highly communicable disease outbreak in a homeless population would likely be immediately identified (in the US/developed countries at least) and quarantined until the outbreak was under control.

    The real danger of an epidemic comes not from an indigenous homeless population, but rather the introduction of a pathogen from some foreign source where the indigenous population has no natural immunity.

    Case in point, Ebola, which has been all over the news lately. We definitely don't want that coming into the USA. Another dangerous one is bird flu, we don't want that one either.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2014
  4. Sep 17, 2014 #3


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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endemic_(epidemiology [Broken])

    Reading those, especially the modes of transmission of disease, and the endemic steady state equation, dumpster diving would probably not result in a disease of epidemic proportions. Granted, someone may have a "better" chance of becoming ill if in close direct contact with a disease causing biological agent from a dumpster. But then again, the area around dumpsters is not designated as being hazardous to the general population health, otherwise airborne transmission, for one method, would be a cause of concern for passersby, or direct contact, as another method, for regular users of the dumpster.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Sep 17, 2014 #4


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    Epidemics usually require one thing above all else: a highly infectious, disease-causing agent. If the people in the town were dumping trash teeming with cholera into the dumpsters, I would say you would soon get an epidemic of cholera. Although it is dirty and smelly, most trash does not harbor deadly communicable disease, otherwise the entire planet would be facing epidemics constantly.

    After all, do you handle the trash in your home with gloves and exposure suits? Are your trash cans hermetically sealed to prevent infectious agents from being released in your home?
  6. Sep 18, 2014 #5


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    Well, no, I don't use gloves, but I don't put my hands through the trash, neither with, nor without gloves, unlike many homeless people, who do so daily. And I don't have rats roaming through my trash, unlike it often happens with city trash cans. Still, I get your points; thanks all for your answers.
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