Rotting carcasses-risk of infection?
Rotting carcasses-risk of infection? Julian Francis 15.11.99
Rotting carcasses-risk of infection? David Morley 17.11.99
Re: Rotting carcasses-risk of infection? Richard Bedell 17.11.99

Date: Mon, 15 Nov 1999 17:47:20 +0000

From: Julian Francis <>

Subject: Rotting carcasses-risk of infection?


I realise that this is a nutrition network but there are so many eminent medical minds I wonder if you can help me.

I have just come back from 2 weeks in Orissa where I was working with the Indian RC on behalf of the Int'l Fedrtn of Red X and Red Crescent Societies.

2 weeks after the cyclone which involved much flooding (sea and rain water) as well, there are still many carcasses and bodies to be burnt or buried.

Many of us have been saying that this situation poses a grave health risk. I was therefore surprised when a WHO rep said that the carcasses and bodies pose a psychological risk but not much of a health one. Is this really true?

Rotting carcasses in a canal or river and downstream people bathing, washing utensils, drinking etc. What are the possible diseases as a result? Surely diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis etc.

Any views advice most welcome.

Many thanks


Julian Francis, Disaster Preparedness Delegate, IFRCS

Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 11:22:10 +0000

From: David Morley <>

Subject: Rotting carcasses-risk of infection?


Dear Julian,

I would go along with your WHO consultant. a corpse is very rarely a health danger compared with a living being. In all such situations the greatest danger is drinking contaminated water. In almost any part of the world clear plastic bottles are available.Filled with water and placed in daylight, better sunlight the bacteria can no longer be identifid afte 2-3 hours. Will send you and anyone else interested photocopies of Lancet articles on this if you give me your address.


David Morley,Emeritus Professor of Tropical Child Health, University of London.

Tel: & Fax. 44 (0) 1582 712199.

Preferred Address; 51 Eastmoor Park, Harpenden, AL5 1BN. UK.

Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 11:20:43 +0000

From: (Saskia VD KAM)

Subject: Re: Rotting carcasses-risk of infection?



It is quite true that graphic reminders of a catastrophe do increase the psychological difficulties of survivors, so that in itself is an important rationale for disposing of dead bodies and animal carcasses.

Infectious disease risks specifically related to dead bodies and carcasses?

First off, given the flooding and its aftereffects it may not be possible to completely separate risks (from dead bodies and other causes) but I can say the following:

  1. Theoretical risks of water-borne and vector-borne risks after cyclones or floods are high (but note this is a generalisation and the word theoretical should not be missed--in reality such outbreaks are not routinely observed).
  2. Dead bodies etc may pose specific risks for vector-borne diseases when fleas or rodents are present around the bodies: one would think POTENTIALLY of leptospirosis, plague, possibly murine typhus and possibly salmonella (if commensal rodents are infected with it).

It would make sense for post-disaster surveillance to include such conditions.

Best regards


Richard Bedell

Médecins Sans Frontières Holland