A Virus First: The Dead Are Still Contagious

Scientists in Thailand say coronavirus appears to have spread to medical examiner from a corpse
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2020 8:07 AM CDT
Scientists: Coronavirus Spread From a Corpse
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

Out of Thailand, a coronavirus first: a case in which the virus appears to have spread from a corpse to a medical examiner. "According to our best knowledge, this is the first report on COVID-19 infection and death among medical personnel in a Forensic Medicine unit," researchers write in a study in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The discovery is now serving as a warning to professionals in different industries that deal with the deceased, a pathology professor at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice tells BuzzFeed. "Not just the medical examiners, but morgue technicians and the people in funeral homes need to take extra care," says Angelique Corthals. "It is a real concern." At the end of March, amid reports that temples were refusing to hold funeral services, Thailand's Department of Medical Services had said that corpses couldn't spread the disease.

Health agencies have since put up varying messages. The CDC, for example, notes "we are still learning how [the virus] spreads" and advises that "people should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19." The World Health Organization says although contagious agents "do not survive long in the human body after death," those who work with dead bodies are at risk of contracting illnesses such as E. coli, cholera, and tuberculosis. Meanwhile, Public Health England notes that "those handling bodies should be aware that there is likely to be a continuing risk of infection from the body fluids and tissues of cases where coronavirus ... infection" is identified, per Business Insider. In the meantime, Corthals recommends all those who work with corpses wear personal protective equipment. "We need to take care of the people who take care of the dead," she tells BuzzFeed. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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