Contrary to a deeply held belief, the remains of victims of natural disasters do not present any particular risk to health, recalled the Red Cross and the WHO. However, a precaution is necessary: do not leave a corpse near sources of drinking water to avoid possible contamination by fecal matter. In fact, the health risk comes more from the survivors who can spread diseases, insist emergency response specialists.
Like in Libyahit by deadly floods, or in Morocco, shaken by a violent earthquake, natural disasters can cause thousands of victims. Buried under the rubble, littering the ruins or floating on the water, they present a terrible spectacle which often prompts the remains to be buried as quickly as possible.
Survivors more exposed to risks of spread
But poor management of the dead, too hasty, can lead to mental suffering and cause legal problems for the victims’ loved ones.
As a general rule, the remains of victims of natural disaster or conflict do not cause epidemics, because people die from injuries, drowning or burns and therefore do not usually carry disease. organisms likely to cause epidemics, according to the WHO and the Red Cross.
This is of course different for deaths caused by highly infectious diseases such as cholera or Ebola or Marburg virus diseases, or when the disaster occurs in a region where one of these diseases is endemic.
“Those who survive an event such as a natural disaster are more likely to spread disease than corpses,” insists the head of the ICRC’s medico-legal unit, Pierre Guyomarch.
You also need to take precautions with water. Fecal matter released by the dead can be contaminated and pollute the water. “It is not the corpse that is the main cause of the risk, it is everything that is in the water” such as mud and chemicals, explains WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris.
No hasty burials
The widespread myth of epidemics caused by remains “often pushes people to bury the dead hastily and increases the risk that people will remain missing, leaving their loved ones in anguish for years,” laments Bilal Sablouh, health advisor. forensic medicine for the ICRC in Africa.
The pressure generated in particular by these rumors can encourage measures such as collective burials carried out in haste and in a disrespectful manner.
“We call on authorities in communities affected by tragedy not to rush into m burials or cremations,” asks Kazunobu Kojima, biosecurity officer in the WHO health emergencies program.
The WHO and the Red Cross recommend identifying bodies and burying them in clearly marked individual graves. It is also important to document and map the burial site to ensure traceability.