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Volume 13, Number 1—January 2007


Epidemics after Natural Disasters

John T. Watson*Comments to Author , Michelle Gayer*, and Maire A. Connolly*
Author affiliations: *World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland;

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Principles for management of dead bodies*

• Mass management of dead bodies is often based on the false belief that they represent an epidemic hazard if not buried or burned immediately.
• Burial is preferable to cremation in mass casualty situations.
• Every effort should be made to identify the bodies. Mass burial should be avoided if at all possible.
• Families should have the opportunity (and access to materials) to conduct culturally appropriate funerals and burials according to social custom.
• Where existing facilities such as graveyards or crematoria are inadequate, alternative locations or facilities should be provided.
• For workers routinely handling bodies, ensure
  • Universal precautions for blood and body fluids
  • Use and correct disposal of gloves
  • Use of body bags if available
  • Hand-washing with soap after handling bodies and before eating
  • Disinfection of vehicles and equipment
  • Bodies do not need disinfection before disposal (except in cases of cholera, shigellosis, or hemorrhagic fever)
  • Bottom of any grave is >1.5 m above the water table, with a 0.7-m unsaturated zone

*Adapted from Morgan (3).

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