After natural disasters, the risk of infection, epidemics from dead bodies is negligible

escue workers who handle dead bodies are higher than for the survivors of a disaster, those risks can be limited through a set of simple measures. Appropriate precautions include training military personnel and others who might have to provide assistance after a disaster, vaccinating those persons against hepatitis B and tuberculosis, using body bags and disposable gloves, washing hands after handling cadavers, and disinfecting stretchers and vehicles that have been used to transport bodies.

Unjustified worries about the infectiousness of bodies can lead to the rapid, unplanned disposal of the dead, sometimes before proper identification of the victim has been made, as well as to taking needless precautions such as burying the deceased in common graves and adding chlorinated lime as a disinfectant.

Disposal of bodies should respect local custom and practice where possible. When there are large numbers of victims, burial is likely to be the most appropriate method of disposal. There is little evidence that proper burial of bodies poses a threat to groundwater that serves as a source of drinking water.

There are various explanations for why unnecessary steps are taken after natural disasters, according to an editorial that accompanies the article. While respect for the dead is a value deeply ingrained in all cultures and religions, it can be difficult to separate respect for the deceased from the deep fear of death itself that is common to all human beings, the editorial notes.

Sometimes feeling pressured by misleading media reports on the supposed dangers from cadavers, public officials take unwarranted measures that leave survivors with doubts concerning the whereabouts of a family member and make it harder for survivors to mourn their loss. When bodies are not identified, a surviving spouse or child can be left in a legal limbo.

The problem, says the editorial, is not anymore and perhaps has never been one of a lack of kno

Contact: Mr. Bill Black
Pan American Health Organization

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