According to a new study, it appears that Ebola victims are still contagious after death. Scientists from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) investigated 5 Ebola-infected monkeys that had passed away and found the virus remained active for more than least seven days while the non-infectious viral RNA remained active for up to 70 days post-mortem.
In order to be able to investigate the behaviour of the deadly virus, scientists placed the dead bodies in a chamber that mimics the environmental conditions found in West Africa. Then they sampled 7 different body surfaces and also removed tissue samples from4 internal organs in order to measure the amount of live Ebola virus and of viral RNA. They compared test results at various times.
“We’re wearing positive pressure suits. We’re not breathing the air from the same room. If we could smell the corpses, there’s a chance we could be infected, and that’s a no-no,”
Dr. Vincent J. Munster, one of the lead authors of the study explained.
The group found that the live virus was detectable in surface swabs for up to one week after death, and in the tissue samples, it is present up to 3 days post-mortem. Viral RNA on the other hand was detectable in several swab and tissue types for up to 10 weeks.
The study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases and underlines the fact that Ebola transmission from dead individuals may also be possible for a quite long period of time following death and therefore caution measures must be taken by all means.
This study also proves the fact that funerals at which mourners either washed or touched the dead bodies are likely to have spread the disease to others. A safe Ebola death practice would involve teams dressed up in full protective gear who would spray the body with bleach and then put it in a body bag, followed by either cremating or burying it deeply into the ground. Throughout the funeral, family members should definitely be allowed to look at the body, but under no circumstances should they touch it.
The West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the worst ones hit by the Ebola outbreak. According WHO figures, the epidemic has affected 22,525 people, with 9,004 deaths.