Plague Transmission from Corpses and Carcasses

15 Jul 2021

Abstract

Knowing whether human corpses can transmit plague will inform policies for handling the bodies of those who have died of the disease. We analyzed the literature to evaluate risk for transmission of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, from human corpses and animal carcasses. Because we could not find direct evidence of transmission, we described a transmission pathway and assessed the potential for transmission at each step. We examined 3 potential sources of infection: body fluids of living plague patients, infected corpses and carcasses, and body fluids of infected corpses. We concluded that pneumonic plague can be transmitted by intensive handling of the corpse or carcass, presumably through the inhalation of respiratory droplets, and that bubonic plague can be transmitted by blood-to-blood contact with the body fluids of a corpse or carcass. These findings should inform precautions taken by those handling the bodies of persons or animals that died of plague.

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