Many dead bodies washed up on the banks of the Ganga River in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh around May 11, 2021. The site was not only disturbing but it raised a lot of shock and anger as well.
According to local reports, more than 100 bodies were dumped into the river and were recovered in a decomposed form. The unfortunate incident raised panic among locals about the spread of COVID-19 through the Ganga River water.
Can COVID-19 spread through water?
•According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, can spread to people through water such as beaches, oceans, lakes, rivers and other water bodies like pools, hot tubs.
•According to WHO, COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets from an infected person’s mouth or nose when they cough, sneeze, speech or breath. Some of the droplets called aerosols are very small and can be airborne over a distance greater than two metres.
•Though body fluids of an infected person may transmit coronavirus, there is no evidence to suggest that running water or even a swimming pool can be the route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2.
•The air in close contact remains the only proven route of Covid-19 transmission as of now. WHO recommends maintaining 6-feet distance whether one is in the water or out of the water.
Can COVID-19 spread from a dead body?
•There is not much clarity on whether COVID-19 can spread from a dead body. Thailand scientists had reported the first known case of COVID-19 infection from a dead person.
•While many other experts dismiss this possibility of COVID-19 transmission from a dead body, they do reiterate that precautions should be taken while handling the body of a person who was COVID-19 positive.
•The guidelines issued by the Union health ministry of India and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) though suggest that there is a possibility of coronavirus infection in handling dead bodies and hence utmost care should be taken in the handling of the bodies of people succumbing to Covid-19.
What precautions can be taken while handling bodies of COVID-19 positive patients?
•The guidelines of the Health Ministry prescribe use of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and eyewear, hand sanitisation and also disinfecting of the bag containing the dead body.
•Health experts across the world also suggest to continue to follow body disposal protocol for Covid-19 cases such as wearing of protective suit, gloves, cap and mask and urge that family members should not touch the body of the loved one who dies of COVID-19 infection.
In conclusion, it is highly unlikely that COVID-19 can spread through the Ganga River where the bloated bodies were found floating. However, high precaution needs to be taken while handling the bodies as it is not confirmed whether they are COVID-19 positive or not. Also, in general, dead bodies are considered contagious hence, they need to be handled with great caution.