Through some posts on social media, it is being claimed that the coronavirus infection can be spread by smoke and ash during the funeral procedure of the coronavirus victim.
A protest took place in a municipality area of Kerala’s Kottayam district over a corpse, when local residents of Muttabalam town stopped the cremation of a coronavirus-infected person on July 26th. The deceased was a native of Chungam who died of coronavirus infection on 25th July at Kottayam Medical College Hospital, after which, the local residents at the crematorium blocked the way and protested against the cremation, despite the clarification from the health workers present there, the local citizens there refused to move from the crematorium. Health officials had informed the public that the body of the deceased would be cremated as per the Covid protocol.
A BJP councilor also came out in support of the demand of the residents. Led by BJP councilor TN Harikumar, residents protested for hours and forced the district administration to retreat. BJP councilor TN Harikumar claimed that after burning the dead person with coronavirus, smoke and ash would spread the coronavirus. He refused to allow the funeral of the coronavirus victim at the crematorium. BJP leaders and local people advised to bury the dead man’s body. The Finance Minister of Kerala, Thomas Issac, also tweeted about the incident.
According to media reports, the police have registered a case against the local BJP councilor and others under section 269 of the Indian Penal Code. The BJP councilor has been blamed for inciting the residents. We started the investigation by searching keywords related to the above claim, as a result of which we got an advisory published by the West Bengal government.
The advisory was issued by the Mamata Banerjee administration in Bengal following protests by residents living in the areas around the crematorium.
The advisor of the Bengal Health Department appraised the World Health Organization guidelines and the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Health and said there is no evidence of persons getting infected from exposure to the bodies of COVID-19 victims.
According to the advisory:
1) The main driver of transmission of COVID-19 is through droplets.
2) Temperature generated during burning of dead bodies is 800 – 1000 degree Celsius, under which, in no condition viruses can remain viable
3) There was no evidence that smoke emanating from the pyre could cause COVID-19
4) Hence, it is clarified that if the protocol prescribed for transportation and disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19 positive persons is followed, there is no risk of any Coronavirus infection spreading from the dead body as result of cremation.20
After that we searched the World Health Organization website we found the interim guidance for safe management of the dead body of coronavirus infected person. According to guidance issued by the World Health Organization on handling the bodies of Covid-19 victims, dead bodies are usually not contagious except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (eg Ebola, Marburg) and cholera. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if improperly handled during autopsy, can become contagious. Otherwise, cadavers (bodies) do not transmit the disease. There is no evidence of coronavirus being infected by contact with dead bodies.
Further W.H.O states that cadavers do not transmit disease. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. The cremation ceremony in the crematorium is related to cultural choice and available resources.
People who die from COVID-19 can either be buried or burnt. However, W.H.O has also mentioned that Employees who regularly handle corpses include tuberculosis, blood borne viruses (such as hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (such as cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhea, salmonellosis, shigellosis, and typhoid / paratyphoid fever) may be at risk.
What do experts say about this?
Dr Shahid Jameel, a virologist and the Chief Executive Officer of the Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance, explains that a dead body can be infectious as the body still has fluids, which can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
“A dead body still has body fluids, still has saliva, and the virus is really there. It’s not the body per se, but secretions that are a source of infections. And therefore, bodies of COVID-19 victims should either be buried or cremated with care.”
Dr Shahid denies fears over the coronavirus spreading due to smoke from crematoriums. He points out, “There are studies to show that the virus is destroyed in 70 degrees in one minute. When you are burn a body, the virus decimates immediately.”
According to Dr. DS Bhullar, Senior Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Specialist, Government Rajindara Hospital, Patiala, “All necessary protocols are being followed. Therefore, there is no chance of the coronavirus spreading from a dead body.”
Conclusion: After checking the facts, we have found the above post to be incorrect. The Coronavirus does not spread through smoke and ash generated during the funeral of the coronavirus victim.
Title:Can the smoke from the cremation of COVID-19 victims spread virus?Fact Check By: Aavya Ray