What to Do When a Loved One Dies of an Infectious Disease
The death of a loved one is almost always a traumatic experience, but when death was caused by an infectious disease, it can become even more upsetting. Any time you are talking about an illness that has the potential to spread to other people (even after death occurs), you are probably going to have to deal with fear and revulsion from the community – and sometimes, even from funeral providers.
However, from a legal standpoint, funeral homes cannot refuse to embalm or handle the body of someone who has passed away from a communicable disease. They are also prohibited from charging extra for this service, even if the disease is a particularly virulent one.
In years past, the biggest areas of concern have been diseases like HIV, AIDS, hepatitis B, and tuberculosis, which tend to occur more frequently in the population than many other diseases. Because many of these can be transmitted via the blood or other body fluids (and because they can survive for some time after the deceased passes on), they pose a risk to the professionals working with the body. In cases where the burial site feeds directly into a water source, there can also be risk of contamination to the community.
Safe Burial Procedures
Because this sort of death can and does happen in all cities around the country, funeral homes should be prepared to handle the remains of your loved one regardless of the cause of death. The training funeral professionals undergo includes safe handling of human remains, up to and including infectious disease. They will wear the proper gear (including gloves and face masks) as they prepare the body, and ensure that no one who is unauthorized comes into contact with the deceased.
Areas where you may seem some changes include:
- A preference for cremation/embalming. While there is no law requiring you to choose cremation or embalming in the event of this kind of death, the funeral home may urge you along this path. Cremation is often chosen because the high temperatures will kill any viruses still in the body, while embalming removes potentially hazardous bodily fluids. It is up to you whether or not to choose these options.
- A preference for a vault or grave liner. This is another one of those not-a-law-but-recommended scenarios. Cemeteries in the United States are carefully situated so that none of the decomposition feeds into a water source. This means that anything or anyone buried there will decompose naturally and without fear of contamination. However, you may be urged to take this extra precaution all the same.
- Special circumstances requiring additional effort. Most communicable diseases are common, and therefore have policies in place when it comes time to bury the dead. However, some rare conditions (like Ebola or Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease) require additional steps. Because these diseases are so virulent, you will most likely be required to work with city officials to ensure everything is handled appropriately.
It is illegal for you and your family to be discriminated against because of this kind of situation, so always be sure and contact a group like the Funeral Consumers Alliance or your county officials if you feel you are being unfairly charged or treated.