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May 15, 2009


 New AVMA policy: Animal carcasses not an immediate risk

Posted May 1, 2009

A new AVMA policy indicates carcasses of animals that die of injuries, particularly during mass natural disasters, do not pose immediate health risks for humans.

The AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues recommended the policy adopted by the Executive Board April 3. It states:

Animal Carcass Risk in Natural Disasters

Consistent with current scientific literature and the conclusions of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the AVMA recognizes that animals who die from injuries, including massive animal deaths in cases of natural disasters, generally do not represent a health hazard for humans. The presence of dead bodies that result from a disaster, without the presence of another risk factor, is not the cause for the spread of infectious diseases. (PAHO Manual, Ch 3, Conclusions; p. 81)

Background on the policy cites conclusions from the Pan American Health Organization—in refuting a myth prevalent in disaster response—that carcasses require quick removal or disposal to prevent the spread of disease.

A PAHO publication, "Management of Dead Bodies in Disaster Situations," states, in part, that confusion among authorities and the public about the risk from dead human and animal bodies "has frequently led to incorrect prioritization and use of scarce resources in crisis situations." It cites as an example the aftermath of Atlantic Hurricane Mitch, in which limited supplies of fuel were used to cremate bodies.

As for threats originating specifically from animal carcasses, the PAHO publication states that animal corpses present a risk only through "specific infectious agents" or through water contamination by feces or discharge from lesions.