Humanitarian Health Action

FAQs: Japan tsunami concerns

21 March 2011

Do dead bodies pose any health risks?

Dead bodies cannot transmit communicable diseases because viruses and parasites die with the host, or body. Deaths associated with natural disasters are overwhelmingly caused by blunt trauma, crush-related injuries or drowning.

When death is directly due to the natural disaster, human remains do not pose a risk for outbreaks; sources of infection are more likely to be among the survivors than those killed by the natural disaster. Even when death is directly due to communicable diseases, the pathogens do not survive long in the human body following death. Dead bodies pose health risks only in a few situations requiring specific precautions, such as death from cholera or haemorrhagic fevers.

However, the sight and smell of large numbers of decomposing dead bodies is extremely disturbing and can result in additional negative impact on the mental health of survivors.