Risk of Dead Bodies Associated with an Epidemic

One of the issues raised by the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 has been the management of the bodies of people who have died as a result of epidemics. PAHO has prepared guidelines to help the public in general regarding measures to be taken, and the risks presented by dead bodies that have resulted from an epidemic.


Epidemics that have generated a large number of victims have been caused by diseases such as plague, cholera, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, anthrax, small pox, and influenza. Even though these are highly contagious diseases, their causing agents do not survive long in the human body after death, making it unlikely that these epidemics can be transmitted by dead bodies.

HIV remains active in dead bodies kept at two degrees Celsius between 6-15 days, and influenza remains active in the environment for only one day.(1) Therefore, if the necessary basic hygiene and biosecurity measures are taken, dead bodies will not transmit diseases, even when the cause of death is related to infectious diseases.

An epidemic can diminish the operative capacity of the human resources and the external services necessary for the efficient running of government and health sector agencies. The following steps should be taken:

Dead Bodies and Infection


Religious Services and Final Disposition of the Bodies

  1. Morgan, Oliver. “Infectious disease risks from dead bodies following natural disasters.” Rev Panam Salud Pública, May 2004, vol.15, no.5, p.307-312. ISSN 1020-4989.
  2. Morgan, Oliver - ed. Management of Dead Bodies alter Disasters—A Field Manual for First Responders. Washington. D.C. PAHO, 2006.