Thailand reports first case of COVID-19 transmission from dead body

Global health bodies have provided conflicting reports as to the risk of COVID-19 transmission from corpses to living people


By Amanda Lien

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand is reporting the first fatal case of COVID-19 being transmitted from a dead patient to a medical examiner, prompting concerns for the safety of first responders and morgue and funeral home workers amid the global pandemic.

“This is the first report on COVID-19 infection and death among medical personnel in a Forensic Medicine unit,” said a Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine study released on Sunday. “At present, there is no data on the exact number of COVID-19 contaminated corpses since it is not a routine practice to examine for COVID-19 in dead bodies in Thailand.”

First responders and those who regularly come into contact with dead patients may be at risk of contracting COVID-19, a new study has found.
First responders and those who regularly come into contact with dead patients may be at risk of contracting COVID-19, a new study has found. (Photo/Getty Images)

The National Post reported that other global health bodies have provided conflicting reports as to the risk of COVID-19 transmission from corpses to living people. Currently there is no major research conducted into the transmissibility of the coronavirus from the dead to the living.

On March 25, the head of Thailand’s Department of Medical Services had announced the bodies of coronavirus victims were not contagious amid reports of temples refusing to perform funeral services, Buzzfeed News reports. However, some morgue workers have raised concerns about infection control as hastily built facilities have been erected to handle COVID-19 deaths.

“Anyone coming into contact with a COVID-19 positive body, alive or dead, should be using personal protective equipment to prevent exposure,” health policy expert Summer Johnson McGee of the University of New Haven told BuzzFeed News by email. “Autopsies and subsequent investigations present real risks for coroners to acquire COVID-19.”

In an online explainer, the World Health Organization wrote that there is no evidence that corpses pose a substantial risk to health because most viruses don’t survive long in the human body after death. However, the WHO urged caution for anyone who works with or encounters human remains.

“Workers who routinely handle corpses may risk contracting tuberculosis, bloodborne viruses (eg hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (e.g. cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhoea, salmonellosis, shigellosis and typhoid/paratyphoid fevers),” the explainer says.

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