Are Dead Bodies Really Dangerous?

The effects of the deceased on the living.

Sunday’s devastating underwater earthquake has claimed more than 50,000 lives, and survivors across South Asia have already begun hurriedly carrying out mass burials. How dangerous are dead bodies to the living? In August 1999, David Plotz explained that decomposing corpses are “only a danger to public health if the victim dies of an infectious disease” and that the threat posed by the bodies of victims of trauma—typically the major cause of death in natural disasters—is “negligible.”