Dead Bodies Don’t Cause Disease

By Alan Boyle on Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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“It was a virus, an infection. You didn’t need a doctor to tell you that. It was the blood, or something in the blood.” —Selena, 28 Days Later (2002)

In A Nutshell

Whenever there is a large disaster, one of the first things authorities will often wish to do is dispose of dead bodies for fear of a disease outbreak. Officials in many countries have rushed to burn or bury bodies to prevent an epidemic. Yet dead bodies don’t cause disease outbreaks. The World Health Organization states that it is better to wait and dispose of bodies normally via local custom and that mass burial or cremation should never be carried out. It has a detrimental impact on the mental health of survivors, and there is no real benefit. Disease in disaster areas is often caused by poor sanitation among the living.

The Whole Bushel

When an oil pipeline exploded in Nigeria in 2006, health officials began fumigating the bodies of the deceased. A spokesman said, “We are worried about the tragic health implications of allowing human parts to decay and cause disease in the place.” The idea that dead bodies cause disease is a popular one, and it’s easy to see why: Decomposing bodies smell, and people associate decomposition with bacteria. Yet the risk to public health from a large number of bodies is described by the World Health Organization as “negligible.” A rush to dispose of them can do much more harm than good. There has never been a single epidemic traced to dead bodies following a disaster. Following an earthquake in India in 2001, bodies were cremated en masse. This wasted effort also had the unfortunate side effect of using up the local wood supply, leaving survivors without enough fuel for heating.

There’s also the fact that personnel resources serve better elsewhere. A team of people gathering bodies is a team that is not building shelters or rescuing survivors. The WHO’s guidelines state that gathering bodies should be the last priority after rescue and restoring vital infrastructure.

Apart from directing resources away from where they’d be better used, there is a direct negative impact on the surviving population. Not being able to find the bodies of loved ones or dispose of them in line with local customs makes it harder for people to recover from their loss. Bodies should be stored as appropriate until such time as proper funeral rites can be carried out in order to reduce psychological distress as much as possible. Mass graves can also cause legal problems, like issues over the right to recover remains.

There are no reports of any infections from contact with dead bodies. There are, however, reports of injury caused by the handling of bodies and moving of rubble to dispose of bodies. Waiting for the right facilities to be able to move bodies safely is significantly less dangerous than removing bodies as rapidly as possible. Unfortunately, the belief that the dead pose a danger is deeply ingrained within the public consciousness and the media, so unacceptable practices are likely to continue.

Show Me The Proof

World Health Organization: Management of Dead Bodies in Disaster Situations
World Health Organization: Mass Fatalities/Dead Bodies
Dead bodies don’t cause disease outbreaks

  • Brp Goyo

    I have a feeling this was written by a necrophiliac

    • Blue

      Lets just hope that some rotten c*nt doesn’t split on him then and get him in to trouble…………….

  • Andyman7714

    …but the smell.

  • Hadeskabir

    I remember a teacher telling me that burying the dead was just a tradition and wasn’t really necessary.

    • Niall

      Well the procedure/process is meant to give the living closure, and it used to be done to prevent scavengers from lunching on the body. Besides, getting rid of the smell isn’t exactly a bad thing,

  • Molly Smith

    What if the bodies died of disease, like the plague? Isn’t there some story about the Mongols using biological warfare by catapulting bodies infected with the plague over city walls?

    • Hellsgift2u

      but a lot of that was assisted by the unsanitary lifestyles of the people back then.

    • Ivan V.

      The Siege of Caffa if my memory serves me correct, it was featured in a top 10 list

    • Dumas911

      Yes but the bodies would leak fluids into water supplies, as well as transferring through minor cut that people more than likely had

  • Efigee

    Dead bodies attract pests, which DO carry disease.

  • adamhs

    Zombie apocalypse. Burn the bodies!

    • Don_cos

      It’s too late, they are already loose in DC!

  • LEDZEPPWIN

    IM SURE THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECT OF LEAVING DEAD BODIES LAYING AROUND OR PILED UP IST VERY GOOD TO THE MORAL OF A POPULATION THAT JUST SUFFERED SOME KIND OF DISASTER

  • The Ou7law

    i would just burn the bodies to get them out of the way, i am not gonna lie

  • Chester

    Really so rotting putrefying bodies dont harbor disease at all..Good to know maybe after disasters we should toss them near drinking water sources and into rivers prolly be fine…This author is a fucking moron, dead bodies attract rats which..get this carry disease, bodies should 100% be tossed into mass pits or burned 1. to get rid of the sheer numbers, 2. to eliminate pests (flys, ticks, rats, other scavengers) which spread disease 3. Make the return to normality faster and easier ( nothing says living in a disaster zone like having 100’s of rotting corpses around).

  • George

    Yes lets throw a rotting corpse upstream from where Alan is drinking from and then before he dies we shall see if he thinks bodies should be left where they lay.

  • MissKingdomVII

    This author is an idiot. I’m just gonna leave a dead infected body by their drinking source.

  • 7csssss

    Human being have an immune systems that fights off disease that love to host itself dead bodies because of the ideal environment it provides. This writer is woefully misinformed didn’t educate themselves before writing this piece in asking for proof when it is “common knowledge”.
    Some basic course in Western and East Asian civilization would put writers ridiculous article to rest. War and human disease ran rampant.
    Biological warfare was born in many respects to this era as we lobbed dead bodies into fortified stronghold and flushed out city by tossing dead bodies into their water supply (rivers & lakes). My suggestion is avoid this blogger, they haven’t got a clue on even the most basic topics.