I’m not sure why I’m bothering to say this — again — but it always seems to be necessary. The horrific oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria that took over 260 lives is now being treated as a possible focus of epidemic disease because of the decaying bodies. Dead bodies in mass casualties do not cause disease, no matter how many times we see reports like this:
Nigerian health officials are disinfecting the site of an oil pipeline explosion that killed more than 260 people and injured dozens more.
Fumigation work began on Tuesday night, according to health officials.
“Our concern is to prevent an outbreak of disease,” said Ayo Alaba-George, a senior local government health official.
“We are worried about the tragic health implications of allowing human parts to decay and cause disease in the place.” (al Jazeera)
The accident happened when thieves tapped into the government run oil pipeline, trying to divert fuel into tanker trucks. As local residents arrived hours later to fill jerry cans from small pools left over from the vandalism, a fire started followed by the catastrophic explosion. There is a current fuel shortage in this oil rich country, why, I have no idea. It is a safe bet [link fixed] that most Nigerians are not profiting from the riches that lie beneath their country.
Infectious disease comes from infectious disease organisms, not the organisms involved in the normal breakdown of organic materials to simpler parts, which we call “decay.” If this misguided disinfection effort is really the work of Nigerian “health officials,” then the fight against bird flu there doesn’t look bright for that benighted country.
Addendum: If you are still dubious, you may find some additional information here, from WHO’s Pan American Health Organization. Disease outbreaks are rare from mass casualty siutations except for flooding, where water supplies may be compromised. In these cases, however, it is bad sanitation from the living bodies, not the dead ones, that is the usual culprit.