UN General Assembly: Would Cremation Help Stop the Spread of Ebola?

September 24, 2014
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Q.

As a survivor of viral hemorrhagic fever myself, I would like to know why no one seems to consider the future outbreaks that will be caused by the policy of burial rather than cremation? I know cremation is not traditional, but burial virtually ensures future outbreaks.
– Asked by Zxy Atiywariii

A

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Burial, especially in a body bag or coffin, is just as effective at ending transmission as cremation. The danger with Ebola is in handling the corpse of a person who died recently. Once it is buried, the danger is largely over, unless someone digs it up quickly. The virus attacks living cells and does not go on reproducing indefinitely. It has never been shown to get into drinking water.

Once a body is buried, bacteria, which are able to digest dead flesh, quickly overwhelm the corpse and cause it to rot. It is a common myth that dead bodies from floods or tsunamis are dangerous. They are disgusting, and you wouldn’t want to rub bacteria from a rotting corpse in an open cut, but the odors they give off are not infectious — just stinky.

It is extremely difficult to get people to change their burial practices, which are rooted in tradition and religion. In various African countries for which statistics were compiled by the Cremation Society of Great Britain, only 3 to 7 percent of the dead are cremated. In much of Africa, traditional beliefs include burial. In colonial times, the chief missionary religions were Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism, all of which opposed cremation for centuries in the belief that bodies should be as intact as possible for the afterlife.

In Asia, cremation is very common. It is the norm for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Shintoists and Sikhs. In Japan, more than 99 percent of bodies are cremated, and rates are over 80 percent in India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. In China, almost 50 percent are cremated.

In the United States, customs have changed. The cremation rate was about 4 percent in 1960; it is now about 40 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

[H/T:  NY Times]

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