Medical examiner dies after coronavirus possibly spreads from dead body

COVID-19 may be spread even by corpses.

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A medical examiner has died after coming in contact with a corpse who succumbed to the coronavirus.

Newsweek reported Tuesday that a forensic practitioner who worked in Bangkok died after examining a dead body, according to a letter published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. No other details were given about the ME’s name or age.

Won Sriwijitalai of Bangkok’s RVT Medical Center and Viroj Wiwanitkit of India’s DY Patil University, co-wrote the letter on March 20. They believe the examiner caught SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

“According to our best knowledge, this is the first report on COVID-19 infection and death among medical personnel in a forensic medicine unit,” they wrote.

They further added, “there is low chance of forensic medicine professionals coming into contact with infected patients, but they can have contact with biological samples and corpses.”

“At present, there is no data on the exact number of COVID-19 contaminated corpses since it is not a routine practice to examine for COVID-19 in dead bodies in Thailand. Nevertheless, infection control and universal precautions are necessary.”

At the time, there were only 272 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Thailand. Since that time, John Hopkins Hospital  estimates that the number of confirmed cases has more than doubled to 2,613.

The World Health Organization has maintained that dead bodies are generally not infectious, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Marburg, or if the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza are not handled properly. It is advised that all medical professionals wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks to avoid spreading the virus.

“To date there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from COVID-19,” the WHO said.

“These recommendations are subject to revision as new evidence becomes available,” the UN agency said.

Wiwanitkit told Newsweek that it could be not stated with certainty that the deceased medical worker caught COVID-19 from conducting autopsies. Nonetheless, it is an important matter to discuss for safety and protocol.

Wiwanitkit said it was “an important forgotten issue in [the] present crisis of COVID-19.”