The dangers to people from dog faeces on playing fields
Dog faeces is smelly and highly unpleasant stuff but, sadly, that is the least of the problems when it comes to playing fields. Particularly for a contact sport like Rugby Union where there is the risk of open wounds coming into contact with the dreaded stuff.
The risks are not theoretical – there have been many examples of rugby players suffering serious infected wounds (1). Worse still is the very real risk associated with Toxocariasis, a debilitating disease caused by the eggs of parasitic Roundworms.
Some key facts:
Dog faeces contains very high levels of a wide range of pathogenic [disease forming] micro-organisms; bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter and MRSA, and parasitic organisms such as Cryptosporidium.
o One gram of faeces can contain up to 23 million such organisms, more than enough to cause disease and infection.
o All of these organisms can survive for long periods (over a year) in soil.
Equally significant, dog faeces is the primary source of Toxocariasis in humans – particularly when in close contact with soil. Children are especially vulnerable.
o This is a dangerous, unpleasant and potentially blinding disease caused by the eggs of Toxocara Canis – colloquially known as Roundworm. These are passed in large numbers the faeces of infected dogs and can live in soil for many years long after the faces itself has been washed away. As with the bacterial infection, a very small quantity of faeces can contain many eggs.
o Note, whilst foxes also carry this parasite, they never defaecate in the open and are not implicated in transmission to humans on playing fields.
Scooping up dog faces from grass does NOT act as an adequate safety precaution (any more than would scraping it up from a carpet and then letting a baby play on it…). As noted above, small quantities of faeces can carry very high levels of pathogens that survive for lengthy periods.
The only way adequately to fulfil our duty of care to junior and senior players is to ban dogs from playing fields. The only exception can be for Assistance / Guide dogs on leads and under close supervision. Many rugby clubs have already implemented such a ban (2) and we place ourselves at risk of litigation in the event of any player – whether from our or a visiting club – becoming infected or injured as a result of failing to apply similar rules.
Nigel Parsons (BSc Combined Hons. Food Science and Microbiology)
President, Sheffield RUFC
1. A recent Google Search immediately found many such cases in recent years including a man who lost his leg as a result.
2. Similarly, a Google search on ‘Rugby Union Policy on Dogs’ produces a very large number of clubs which have already introduced total bans.