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Covid-19 Death: What Are The Norms For Handling Victims' Bodies; Ensuring Hygiene During Funeral

Representational Image

Representational Image

Victims' relatives and staff handling the body should be appropriately dressed in PPE - gloves, surgical mask, face shield

There are many rumours and misinformation on social media platforms on how the body of a suspected or confirmed case of Coronavirus victim is cremated or buried. Different health bodies, including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and AIIMS, New Delhi, have issued guidelines for citizens, debunking all the myths.

The country is facing a surge of Covid-19 cases as it has recorded 261,500 new infections and 1,501 deaths in the past 24 hours, the government said on Sunday. It was the fourth consecutive day that the country recorded over 2 lakh cases.

Here’s a look at the guidelines and protocol that need to be followed while handling Covid-19 victims’ bodies:

Handling Dead Bodies

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Basic hygiene and Covid protocols must be followed while handling the dead body. The health worker attending to the dead body should perform hand hygiene, ensure proper use of PPE (water-resistant apron, goggles, N95 mask, gloves). Also, all tubes, drains and catheters on the dead body should be removed.

The body should then be placed in a leak-proof plastic body bag. The exterior of the body bag can be decontaminated with 1 per cent hypochlorite. The body bag can be wrapped with a mortuary sheet or sheet provided by the family members.

In case of splashing of body fluids is anticipated, facial protection like face shield or goggles and a medical mask must be used to protect the eyes and mucous membranes.

After taking of the PPE kit, hand hygiene should be performed.

Protocols During Autopsy

Autopsies should be avoided. In case of an autopsy on a dead body, engage a minimum number of staff in the procedure and the process should be performed in a ventilated room. Scrub suit – tops and trousers, or equivalent garments, surgical mask, autopsy gloves and knee high boots must be used during the procedure.

Remove PPE before leaving the autopsy suite and follow appropriate disposal requirements. After removing PPE, always perform good hand hygiene practices.

Transportation

The body must be secured in a body bad and the exterior must be decontaminated to avoid any risk to the attending members. The people attending to the patient, if any must ensure PPE with proper gloves, mask and hygiene.

The vehicle, after the transfer of the body to cremation/ burial staff, will be decontaminated with 1 per cent sodium hypochlorite.

The Last Rites

Once a Covid-19 patient succumbs, the medical professionals should hand over the body of the deceased to relatives and friends for last rites assuring that the there is no spread of the infection preferably in a fluid proof coffin.

The relatives and handling staff should be appropriately dressed in PPE i.e. gloves, water resistant gown/plastic apron over water repellent gown, and surgical mask. Goggles or face shield to protect eyes from any splashes must be used.

For the purpose of last rites, cremation should be preferred for complete elimination of chances of infection in either electric or gas crematorium in zipped body bag. In case of a burial, it should be assured that the body is buried in a thick, air tight coffin and placed at normal depth of burial (4 to 6 feet). It is recommended that the area above and adjacent to the grave should be cemented immediately.

As per Central government guidelines, not more than 20 people should attend the funeral. This number may change as per state governments’ norms.

Viewing of the dead body by unzipping the face end of the body bag (by the staff using standard precautions) may be allowed, for the relatives to see the body for one last time. 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. However, bathing, kissing, hugging, etc. of the dead body should not be allowed.

After cremation or burial, the PPE kit of the people attending the funeral must be removed and basic hygiene should be maintained.

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first published:April 18, 2021, 15:13 IST