Srinagar: Senior doctors in Kashmir have said that bodies of Covid-19 patients must be handled with respect while following certain precautions and guidelines to prevent transmission of the infection.
They said no scientific evidence has been found which proves that coronavirus spreads from exposure to dead bodies of Covid-19 patients.
“People shouldn’t stigmatise Covid-19 patients and their families,” said Dr Parvaiz Koul, Professor and Head of Department, Internal and Pulmonary Medicine, SKIMS Soura.
“We just need to follow certain guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation and the health ministry from time to time while burying the bodies of Covid-19 victims,” he said.
According to Dr Koul, the only risk from bodies is fomite transmission through touching the body, clothes and other possessions of the deceased.
“Scientific evidence says that Covid-19 is not an airborne infection but transmits between people through droplets, fomites and close contact. So, we allow families to see the body and participate in the funeral while maintaining the social distancing,” he said.
As per WHO guidelines, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious.
“Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious,” the WHO has said.
However, the WHO warned, the coronavirus is novel and its source and disease progression are not yet entirely clear, so more precautions may be needed.
“Before attending to a body, people should ensure that the necessary hand hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are available,” the WHO has said.
“Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources,” read the guidelines.
The WHO has also stressed on dignified burial of Covid-19 patients. “The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions and their families should be respected and protected throughout,” WHO guidelines say.
“Hasty disposal of dead from Covid-19 should be avoided and authorities should manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risks of exposure to infection,” the WHO has said.
President of Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), Dr Suhail Naik, said that soon after the death of a coronavirus positive patient, the mouth and nasal orifices of the dead body should be plugged or sealed to prevent leakage of body fluids, besides taking all other hospital infection control measures.
He said family members of deceased should be allowed to see the body when removed from the isolation ward.
“The body should be covered in leak-proof plastic body bag and exterior of the body bag should be decontaminated. The body, secured in a body bag, exterior of which is decontaminated poses no additional risk to the staff transporting the dead body with 1% hypochlorite solution and can be even handed over to the relatives,” he said.
The vehicle, after the transfer of the body to home, should be decontaminated with 1% Sodium Hypochlorite, he said.
Dr Naik further said that it is imperative to understand that all the persons handling the body have to follow standard precautions and should wear a surgical mask and hand gloves.
“At home, any person, be it a family member or religious person, should wear gloves to avoid any direct contact with the body. The clothing worn during the preparation of the body for burial should be immediately removed and washed or, alternatively, an apron or gown should be worn,” he said.
Dr M Saleem Khan, Nodal Officer for Coronavirus at GMC Srinagar, said that religious rituals such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water and any other last rites that do not require touching of the body can be allowed.
“Bathing, kissing, hugging, etc, of the dead body should not be allowed,” he said, quoting the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
“People can practice standard precautions of hand hygiene, use of masks and gloves and social distancing and older people and anyone with underlying illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, or compromised immune systems, should not be involved in preparing the body,” Dr Khan said.