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This health expert's Nerds candy/poop analogy will... stick with you

Things got vivid during a Minnesota House subcommittee hearing on waterborne illness on Monday.

Things got vivid during a Minnesota House subcommittee hearing on waterborne illness on Monday. YouTube

Often, crafting effective policy means absorbing information you never had any desire to know.

Like exactly how much poop you’re probably carrying around on your butt at all times.

That was the disheartening and potentially stomach-turning news brought to us this week Trisha Robinson, a supervisor specializing in waterborne diseases with the Minnesota Department of Health, who provided highly informative—dare we say vivid—testimony during a legislative hearing on Monday.

Robinson's subject was E. coli. Last summer was awash with beach closures due to waterborne viruses and bacteria. High E. coli levels in Bde Maka Ska forced the annual milk carton boat race onto dry land for the first time since 1971, and sickened 69 swimmers in Lake Nokomis. Meanwhile, a viral illness managed to infect 198 people in and around Lake Minnetonka on Fourth of July weekend.

Robinson was there to tell us how this happens. You’re not going to like it.

“Everybody has about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottom at any given time,” she said.

Maybe you're wondering: How much is that? 

Maybe absolutely nobody is wondering. No matter. Robinson explained anyway.

“About the size of a Nerds candy.”

“If you’re a Nerds candy lover, I apologize,” she said. “It may not be your favorite candy after this.”

Every time a bunch of people go swimming in a lake, they bring their Nerd-sized grain of poop with them, which then rinses into the water. If you happened to have diarrhea at the time, that runoff could contain millions of germs, which can—sorry reader, this is about to get so much worse—be unintentionally swallowed by your swimming companions.

Who among us insists on swimming in a public body of water while they have diarrhea, you ask? One in four people who reported being ill during the Lake Nokomis outbreak, it turns out. The Lake Minnetonka outbreak, Robinson added, may have been the result of improperly disposed boat waste.

The evocative imagery turned a few heads Monday afternoon. Session Daily reporter Deena Winter tweeted that Robinson's testimony had the subcommittee room "clearing out." 

Gross? Yes. But in this case, it’s probably better to be queasier and wiser. We bet you'll remember Robinson next time you think about jumping in a lake without showering first.

And good luck forgetting her testimony next time someone offers you Nerds.