Are Dead Bodies Really Dangerous?

The effects of the deceased on the living.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told the press yesterday that “we know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water” and warned that thousands in the city may have died during Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding. Do these dead bodies pose a threat to the survivors? 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.”