Thailand reports first case of Covid-19 transmission from dead patient, stresses use of PPE

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“…not just the medical examiners, but morgue technicians and the people in funeral homes need to take extra care”

UNTIL now, medical experts and health authorities are debating whether or not the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-Coronavirus-2 that causes the coronavirus disease-2019 (Covid-19), can be transmitted through the air.  

A few weeks ago, an experimental video done somewhere in Japan using specialized cameras and posted in the web shows a man sneezing and tiny moisten droplets released from his mouth remain in the air for several hours later. Even President Rodrigo R. Duterte alluded to the said video during one of his late night TV press conferences with his cabinet to underscore the need for wearing face mask always.  

Fake news or otherwise, but most of them believe the virus can be spread exponentially if one gets contaminated liquid from a Covid-19 positive patient’s body through sneezing, coughing, or touching a contaminated object and somehow bringing the virus to his noses, mouth and eyes.

That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH) prescribe proper use of face mask, handwashing with soap, and observing social or physical distancing.

But while others are groping for the right answers to many questions about the virus and to find the right anti-body and vaccine to fight this tiny smart, thousands die or are dying every day, including those in the front line. The first effective defensive action of the government is to contain the spread of the virus by staying at home, taking voluntary self-quarantine and later passing orders on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

It becomes obvious now that most medical frontliners are contaminated while treating their patients. Others got infections from those who defy the orders of the DOH and local authorities. This situation is addressed by the government by procuring more supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) and strict enforcement of the ECQ guidelines. The Philippine National Police are flagging down private vehicles and cracking down on unauthorized people in the streets.

However, on April 13, according to BuzzFeed News, and posted by Dan Vergano, “scientists from the RVT Medical Center in Bangkok, Thailand reported the first fatal case of Covid-19 being transmitted from a dead patient to a medical examiner.” 

The report says it is “a finding that experts say adds to safety concerns for morgue and funeral home workers amid the global pandemic.”

The Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine Study released April 12 states, “This is the first report on Covid-19 infection and death among medical personnel in a Forensic Medicine unit. The disinfection procedure used in operation room might be applied in pathology/forensic unit.”  

However, it noted that there is no data on the exact number of Covid-19 contaminated corpses since it is not a practice to examine for Covid-19 in dead bodies in Thailand.  The DOH protocol in the Philippines on the disposition of corpses is to immediately cremate the body of confirmed Covid-19 by an accredited funeral parlor or crematorium.

Thailand has one of the lowest Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia of 2,579 and the death of a forensic team member was only the second case reported among medical personnel in Thailand as of March 20, said the author.

Angelique Corthals, a professor of pathology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said it is a real concern of medical personnel.  She said “not just the medical examiners, but morgue technicians and the people in funeral homes need to take extra care.” This is so because very little is known about how long Covid-19 survive in dead bodies or whether corpses can be contagious to people who handle them.

As a precaution, Summer Johnson McGee of the University of New Haven and a health policy expert said “Anyone coming into contact with Covid-19 positive body, alive or dead, should be using personal protective equipment.”

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