CONTRARY to popular belief, dead bodies left from natural disasters such as the China earthquake and Myanmar cyclone are not a source of disease or a health threat to survivors, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.
Rather, a lack of safe water supplies and poor sanitation were the main epidemic threat in the days after a major catastrophe, Arturo Pesigan in a statement from the WHO's Western Pacific Region's headquarters in Manila.
'There is a widespread and erroneous belief that dead bodies are a source of disease and therefore a threat to public health. This is untrue,' he said.
'There has never been a documented case of a post-natural-disaster epidemic that could be traced to dead bodies,' said the doctor, who helps oversee emergency and humanitarian services in the region.
He said those killed by disasters were generally healthy at the time of their death, and were unlikely to be a source of infection to others.
'The micro-organisms responsible for the decomposition of bodies are not capable of causing disease in living people,' the WHO technical officer said.
'Most infectious agents of public health concern that may be present at the time of death will themselves die within hours of the person dying.'
'Generally, for an epidemic to occur, certain necessary conditions related to infectious agents, susceptible hosts and a favourable environment have to be met. If any of these conditions is not present, an epidemic cannot occur.'
He said epidemics, however, could occur after a disaster with the peak danger period being between 10 days and one month after the event.
'Unsafe food and a lack of access to safe water, facilities for personal hygiene and safe sanitation arrangements all create a real risk for outbreaks of infectious disease at any time,' Dr Pesigan said.
He said these conditions added to large numbers of people in overcrowded temporary shelters, 'heighten the danger.'
Dr Pesigan said it was important to concentrate efforts on the living rather than diverting resources into disposing of dead bodies.
'Pressure from misinformed journalists and media organisations can cause governments to behave inappropriately, for example spraying the area around dead bodies with disinfectant or covering dead bodies with lime,' he said.
'These operations are costly, time consuming, require complicated logistics and coordination, take staff away from caring for survivors and are totally unnecessary.' -- AFP-ST