Dead Bodies Pose Little Disease Risk

In an earlier post, I let my own understanding of things color my reading of Daniel Aronstein‘s post on why mass graves for the victims of the Asian tsunami disaster were unnecessary. His point is that, contrary to the conventional wisdom (and my own understanding), it is not necessary to bury bodies quickly because the threat of disease is wildly exaggerated. Via e-mail, he points me to a NYT story on this point:

Toll Soaring, Survivors Face a 2nd Terror: Disease

Even as local health officials out in the field were racing to create mass graves or pyres to deal with the rising tide of bodies, saying the bodies posed immediate health risks, officials of the World Health Organization emphasized that the biggest risk of an outbreak was posed by survivors. The agency’s officials said Tuesday that because there was little danger of epidemics from unburied bodies, immediate mass burials and cremations were not necessary. Instead, they said, family members and friends should be given time, where possible, to identify the bodies first.

You learn something new every day.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Health,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent says:

    The agency’s officials said Tuesday that because there was little danger of epidemics from unburied bodies

    Don’t know why this should surprise anyone. Dead bodies aren’t good hosts for most human pathogens.

    It’s the crowding of large numbers of weakened people into refugee camps with poor sanitary conditions that poses the risk for epidemics. Weakened people are ideal hosts for pathogens and their close proximity makes transmission of disease difficult to avoid.

    [Moved from original location, as I created a new post rather than just an update to the original. – jj]

  2. Bithead says:

    Well, in fairness, they do tend to attract vermin, which, in turn….

  3. McGehee says:

    I read somewhere once that decomposing bodies can contaminate drinking water and cause disease that way…

  4. Paul says:

    I guess it depends on what your definition of “quickly” is.

    100,000 dead anythings laying in the street ain’t a healthy way to live.