Fact Check: Can smoke from cremation of coronavirus patient spread Covid-19?

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Fact Check: Can smoke from cremation of coronavirus patient spread Covid-19?
Fact Check: Can smoke from cremation of coronavirus patient spread Covid-19?

New Delhi : On July 26, a protest erupted at in a municipality in Kerala's Kottayam district after locals raised their concerns and protested against the smoke being generated from the cremation of COVID-19 patients, fearing they may also get coronavirus from that.

A native of Chungam, the deceased had succumbed to COVID-19 at the Kottayam Medical College Hospital on July 25. The entrance to the cremation was blocked by the locals, despite repetitive clarifications given by the healthworkers.

The health authorities had informed them that the mortal remains of the COVID-19 patient will be cremated as per Coronavirus protocols.

A BJP councillor also came out in support of the residents' demand. Led by BJP councillor TN Harikumar, the residents protested for hours and forced the District administration to retreat. Harikumar claimed that COVID-19 would spread through the smoke and ashes. He stopped the last rites of the patient. Check video below:

The protesters had erected a bamboo barricade to prevent any vehicular movement to the crematorium. Armed police later removed the barricade. The body was eventually taken to the crematorium under heavy police escort at around 10.30 pm on Sunday, July 26.

'Coronavirus could spread through the smoke and ashes during the last rites of a COVID-19 victim' - this piece of news has been viral on social media platforms since past few months.

So News Heads tried to find the answer of can smoke from cremation of coronavirus patient spread Covid-19?

After reading reports and guidelines we found that as per the guidance released by World Health Organisation (WHO) on handling COVID-19 victims' bodies, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease.

The WHO further adds any body fluids leaking from orifices in the cadaver must be contained. There is no need to disinfect the body before transferring it to the mortuary area. 

People who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. However, WHO also mentioned that workers who routinely handle corpses may, however, risk contracting tuberculosis, bloodborne viruses (eg hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (e.g. cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhoea, salmonellosis, shigellosis and typhoid/paratyphoid fevers).

The same has been mentioned in an advisory issued by the West Bengal government too.

The Bengal health department advisory quoted from the World Health Organisation guidance and the Union health ministry guidelines and highlighted that there was no evidence of people becoming infected from exposure to bodies of persons who die from COVID-19. The advisory noted that the main driver of transmission of COVID-19 is droplets. 

"Temperature generated during burning of bodies is 800-1,000 degree celsius, under which, in no condition, can the virus remain viable," it said.

It added that there was no evidence either that the smoke generated from the pyre can cause COVID-19. 

"Hence, it is clarified that if the protocol prescribed for transportation and disposal of dead bodies of Covid-19 positive persons is followed, there is no risk of any coronavirus infection spreading from the dead body as a result of cremation," the notice said.