Dead Bodies Pose No Risk of Epidemics
GENEVA Dead bodies do not spread disease but mass burials after disasters, such as this week's killer floods in Haiti, cause unnecessary suffering to surviving relatives, the United Nations health agency said Friday. Citing mass graves being dug in the Caribbean island, where over 1,000 people were killed by tropical storm Jeanne, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was a wasteful misconception that cadavers caused epidemics.
"It is a myth that regularly surfaces after disasters ... that dead bodies pose a danger to the surviving population," said Johanna Larusdottir, WHO senior advisor on health action in crises.
Outbreaks of diseases such as cholera were more likely to be caused by the living, with their sewage and effluence seeping into the drinking water, for example, than by the dead.
"Infectious agents do not survive long in dead bodies," she told reporters.
Denying survivors the chance to bury their dead, however, could cause them long-term psychological traumas and governments often wasted scarce resources in unnecessary vaccination programs and in disinfecting areas where bodies had been.
"It often leads to resources being wrongly directed and all kinds of cleaning and disinfecting programs," she said.
In Haiti, police had to restrain angry neighbors and relatives protesting at mass graves in Gonaives, the northern town that took the brunt of the storm.