Thai researchers discover it is possible to contract COVID-19 from a dead body
A person has reportedly contracted novel coronavirus from a corpse.
According to ABC News, scientists in Thailand have reported the first known case of a person becoming infected with COVID-19 from a dead body.
The deceased was a forensic medical professional who evaluated dead bodies professionally, making it highly likely that they became infected with novel coronavirus from a dead person.
This is likely a rare situation as COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk.
So, though transmission of the virus via a dead is possible, it's less likely to occur.
The National Association of Medical Examiners agrees with this assessment, noting that the "risk of droplet transmission of COVID-19 after death is thought to be minimal," but possible, since forensic medicine personnel regularly come in contact with corpses and biological fluids.
For this reason, medical experts urge family members of deceased COVID-19 patients to use caution by refraining from touching the body of a dead loved one.
The professional society notes "Medical Examiners and Coroners are familiar with handling bodies that have other viral diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis, diseases that likely pose more risk at autopsy than COVID-19. Funeral Homes routinely handle bodies with known infections of varying kinds as well."
Most infectious agents do not survive long in the human body after death, according to the World Health Organization. However, WHO also recognizes that workers who routinely handle corpses are at risk of contracting tuberculosis, blood-borne viruses like Ebola, hepatitis and HIV, and gastrointestinal infections like E. coli and typhoid fever.
Medical examiners can never be too sure which infections a corpse may harbor, so they always take universal precautions, and treat all body fluids as infectious. This means wearing protective suits, gloves, goggles, face shields, caps and masks.
"I approach all my cases with universal precautions so in that regard I feel protected to a certain extent," said Melissa Guzzetta, a medical examiner based in New Jersey.
"With COVID, because it is a novel pathogen that we do not fully understand, I think the uncertainty, no matter how small, leaves people with enough anxiety that the majority of offices feel the risk of doing an autopsy outweighs the benefits" when it comes to examining the body of a person who died from COVID-19, she said.
Data regarding the exact number of COVID-19 contaminated corpses is not easy to come by since testing for COVID-19 in dead bodies is not routine.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specific recommendations for the collection and submission of post-mortem specimens from deceased persons with known or suspected COVID-19.
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