Health

Thursday 31 July 2014

Waking dead at home carries infection risk, experts warn

Funeral homes may not be told about a deceased person's disease

The revived tradition of people waking the dead in their own homes may carry infection risks unless proper precautions are followed, the country's disease watchdog has warned.

Growing numbers of bereaved families are choosing to wake their loved one at home but may be unaware of the need to ensure they are protected from risk of infection.

The warning has emerged in new draft guidelines on the handling of deceased people with infectious diseases which may be passed on if the remains are not handled properly by methods such as embalming.

There are 27,000 deaths annually in Ireland and 1pc of these are associated with a known or suspected infection, the report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre pointed out.

"Risk of infection can be minimised by following good basic infection control precautions.

"There are various situations in the process of handling and disposal of human remains that represent an increased risk of exposure to infection," it said.

"Any process which may involve contact with body fluids, or use of sharp instruments, especially the process of embalming can be associated with increased risk".

It emerged in the report that "in recent times there is an increasing trend back to the traditional wake".

It stressed that it is advisable that all bodies being waked at home should be embalmed and this should be done in a suitable premises.

The report said that if the body is waked at home the heating must be turned off in the room and it must be adequately ventilated.

The report expressed concern that the funeral industry in Ireland is unregulated and infection control procedures vary enormously as a result.

"Because of the lack of regulation it is difficult to ensure that high standards are maintained in all cases. The availability of suitable embalming facilities is a subject of concern among those working in the funeral industry and anecdotal evidence suggests that the process on occasion happens in very unsuitable premises -- for example private homes and hospital chapels."

Regulation

The report stressed the need for standards to be set and in order for these standards to be met regulation should be introduced.

From the point of death to the actual burial, two to four days later, the remains of the deceased may be handled or viewed by loved ones, healthcare workers and funeral staff at a minimum but gardai, pathology and laboratory staff and anatomy workers may also be involved emphasising the need for proper guidelines.

Medical confidentiality has meant that funeral homes may not be told about a deceased person's disease and the need for precautions .

The report proposes that a way be found to communicate the risk to the funeral director or others handling the body without revealing the deceased person's specific diagnosis.

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