SARS-CoV-2 Transmission from Virus-Infected Dead Hamsters

mSphere. 2023 Feb 21;8(1):e0041122. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00411-22. Epub 2023 Jan 10.


Although it has been 2.5 years since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began, the transmissibility of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from a dead infected body remains unclear, and in Japan, bereaved family members are often not allowed to view in person a loved one who has died from COVID-19. In this study, we analyzed the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from a dead body using a hamster model. We also analyzed the effect of "angel care"--in which the pharynx, nostrils, and rectum are plugged--and embalming on reducing transmissibility from dead bodies. We found that SARS-CoV-2 could be transmitted from the bodies of animals that had died within a few days of infection; however, angel care and embalming were effective in preventing transmission from the dead bodies. These results suggest that protection from infection is essential when in contact with a SARS-CoV-2-infected dead body and that sealing the cavities of a dead body is an important infection control step if embalming is not performed. IMPORTANCE We found that SARS-CoV-2 could be transmitted from a dead body, presumably via postmortem gases. However, we also found that postmortem care, such as plugging the pharynx, nostrils, and rectum or embalming the corpse, could prevent transmission from the dead body. These results indicate that protection from infection is essential when handling infected corpses and that appropriate care of SARS-CoV-2-infected corpses is important.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; animal model; dead body; embalming; transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Cricetinae
  • Infection Control
  • Japan
  • SARS-CoV-2*