A week ago, friends and family members of Dr Simon Hercules, a Chennai based neurosurgeon who had unfortunately succumbed to COVID-19, were witness to mob violence and an unleashing of anger when they tried to bury the doctor’s body. The locals seemed to be acting under the influence of misapprehensions, fear, and ignorance about the disease spreading from the body of the deceased.
The Better India (TBI) spoke to Dr Rajesh Kumar Gupta, Additional Director, Pulmonology and Critical Care, Fortis, Noida to allay this ungrounded fear of people which is making them act so irrationally. “If a person gets infected with COVID-19, we need to stop behaving as though a thief has been caught. Sadly, this mindset carries forward even after death. So what we need is sensitivity right from the time a patient is diagnosed to have COVID-19,” he says.
COVID-19 Deaths: Burial vs. Cremation
“Neither burying nor cremating can in any way lead to the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr Gupta, clarifying the picture on the raging debate. He further informs that contrary to other governments like that of Sri Lanka who have issued a blanket order to cremate all bodies of patients of COVID-19, the Indian government has left it to the discretion of the families and the faith that they follow.
“Even when alive, standing two meters apart from each other ensures that there is no spread of the COVID-19, so how can the virus be transmitted when the body is buried deep within a bag,” questions Dr Gupta.
Government and WHO Guidelines on Handling Bodies of COVID-19 Patients:
• The body can be cremated or buried
• Bathing, hugging, and kissing the body should not be permitted
• The ash can be collected after the body is cremated as that does not lead to any risk
• Large gathering at the crematorium/burial ground must be prohibited and even when at the site one must follow strict social distancing rules
• The body should be kept in a body bag and the exterior must be sanitised thoroughly
• The staff at the hospital must ensure that all open cavities in the body are plugged before handing the body over to the family
• The body should be stored in cold chambers maintained at approximately 4°C.
• After the ceremonies are done one should ensure that all personal hygiene practices are followed
“One of the main drivers of the COVID-19 transmission is droplets. It is unlikely that someone gets infected from the dead body of a COVID-19 positive patient. What needs to be taken care of is that the body is handled with the utmost care if an autopsy is being carried out, as that can be infectious,” says Dr. Gupta.
He urges the media to stop projecting the number of cases and deaths like a scoreboard. He says we must learn to treat people with dignity in life and death. “Please understand and respect the fact that this is a medical issue and needs to be handled with utmost care and sensitivity,” Dr Gupta concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)