Corpses Can Kill
Diseases of the dead and infectious

Beware of stinking human cadavers! If a lost lover shows up decayed in a field, it's best to quell your desire to give that final embrace -- to a putrid bag of poison! Cordon your love off with yellow quarantine ribbon and warn onlookers away. Explain that your sweetie has become a rancid, microbiological menace. Corpses can kill!

See also...
... by Hank Hyena
... in the Whoa! section
... from December 9, 1999

Those bodies fermenting on New Guinea beaches after the 30-foot tsunami drowned 3,000 lives last July? They're tainted! Turks trapped and rotting in the August and November earthquakes? Nasty stuff! Hondurans massacred by Hurricane Mitch? Indians typhooned in Orissa? Avoid their pestilential remains!

After evil infection annihilates someone the cooties obviously want to vault into another host, but even physiques that perish nobly in battle can become bloated bags of malodorous crud. And when hordes of humans die simultaneously (in natural disasters or concentration camps) one finds a petri dish of pandemic dimensions.

Dead bodies are so vile, they've been deployed as weaponry ever since antiquity. The Scythians of the Black Sea (500 B.C.) dipped their arrowheads in decaying cadavers to poison their foes, and Mongols catapulted corpses over castle walls in Crimea in 1346 A.D. In present-day southern Sudan, warring soldiers contaminate water by chucking dead bodies into enemy wells. Corpse-homicides occurred even in the high-tech Persian Gulf War: A unit that buried indigent Iraqi dead was almost entirely eliminated by Gulf War Disease, and another victim fell ill after handling American dead.

Infectious disease specialist Michael Diamond, M.D., who has conducted research in the Philippines and Bolivia, scientifically elucidated for GI the dire cadaver condition: "In our guts we all have bacteria that don't die when we die," he explained. "Bacteria actually thrive when we perish, because there's no immune system left to repel it. That's what the stench of corpses is: rampant bacteria. It flourishes unchecked, doubling every 20 minutes as it leaps out of our intestines to feed on the internal organs and tissue."

Any idiot that carelessly paws a corpse risks being infected by afflictions like hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, typhoid, tuberculosis, and measles. It's also imbecilic to handle mysteriously-sickened animals: HIV has been linked to a chimpanzee strain termed SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus); sadistic Ebola is connected to chimps and red colobus monkeys; Rift Valley fever that killed up to 5,000 Kenyans in 1998 was partially transmitted via butchered animals; and if a demented bovine collapses on your plate, avoid eating it or you'll get mad cow disease.

Even if we steer clear of stiffs, the bubbling bacteria they contain can be transported into us by evil collaborators. "If a rat gnaws off a corpse's hand," Dr. Diamond informed GI, "bacteria will grow on the exposed dead tissue culture, which will attract flies, mosquitoes, other insects, and vermin." Fleas dwelling on rats, for example, carried bubonic plague from Asian cadavers into the ports of Europe. More recently, the dogs that chewed on tsunami-thrashed corpses were exterminated by New Guinea patrolmen, to keep them from hauling contamination into adjacent villages.

Filthy blood, beasts, and bugs are all mild threats though, compared to the placid polluted water that humans ingest and "clean" dishes with. Legendary marauders like cholera and shigella (bacillary dysentery) create epidemic havoc when "corpses leak bacteria and contaminate the water supply in warm climates," warned Dr. Diamond.

The "leak" Dr. Diamond referred to is in the dead person's asshole. Feces are where cholera and shigella reside, and a crisis commences when shit spews out of corpses into waterways, especially in dense population areas with poor sanitation. Also dangerous is the unclean custom in many cultures of having the same folk who dress the dead flesh prepare funereal meals -- it's a recipe for disaster.

Dead bodies are bombs! It doesn't matter if it's just a baby decomposing in an attic, or entire villages battered into the beyond by tumbling Turkish concrete. They're unsafe! Dr. Diamond recommended that we "refrigerate corpses, or burn them," but embalming is also sufficient because it replaces polluted blood with sanitizing solutions. Embalmers also plug up the orifices from whence filthy bodily fluids seep.

In the near future, corpses might instigate a fearful high-casualty plague. There are rivers in India that are dumping grounds for biomedical and cemetery waste: Blood, shit, amputated limbs, operated organs, and cadaverous remains are sloppily flushed downstream. Everybody dies someday, but in these rustic regions a new, horrible bacterium might seep out of a tormented corpse and flow unchecked into everyone's drinking water, infecting and killing millions of people, like a sinister invisible ghoul.

Hank Hyena is a columnist for Salon, and a frequent contributor to SFGate.