Nalzaro: Postmortem swab is still vital


IF DEPARTMENT of Health (DOH 7) Regional Director Jaime Bernadas has his way, he does not want that dead patients be subjected to coronavirus disease (Covid-19) test. “Taking swab samples from dead patients is not part of the protocol testing for Covid-19,” Bernadas said. He added that “what happened there were ‘accommodations’ being practiced in medical facilities wherein patients who do not supposedly fit in testing qualifications, including the dead, are being swabbed upon request of families and handling physicians.”

He said he already instructed the chiefs of hospitals to no longer tolerate accommodations outside the protocol on who should be tested for Covid-19. “I think this is a balancing act between the demand of our doctors who even demand that all the patients that they are handling should be tested. That is a crazy demand,” Bernadas said.

Well, Bernadas was just too frank and practical when he said that swabbing a dead person is not their priority. This is maybe because of their backlogs in releasing the results of the analysis of the specimens taken from patients. They have to prioritize the living patients because, if the virus remains undetected, these people can be carriers.

But Bernadas misses the point why postmortem specimens are still most needed. I gathered from some hospitals and funeral parlors that most patients who died in the hospital, even if they died due to other pre-existing diseases, are marked “as suspected Covid-19 case.” The standard operating procedure of most hospitals is to cremate the bodies immediately. Relatives who cannot afford cremation are ordered to immediately bury their dead in the cemetery with the body heavily wrapped in cellophane and in a sealed coffin.

We cannot blame the relatives and the attending physicians of the dead patients for wanting to request for swab test because they also want to be sure for their own health and safety and maybe to give the dead a decent wake and burial. It is part of our culture and tradition to give decent burial and to hold a long wake for our departed loved ones to allow our relatives from other places to attend the wake. Bernadas should also consider these practices.

But with the health crisis now where most deaths are attributed to Covid-19, our tradition on how we pay respects to our departed loved ones has been set aside. This is to avoid the spread and transmission of the disease. What will happen if the dead has been proven to have died due to the virus? Isn’t it more dangerous for contamination if the relatives are left unaware?

But because of the backlogs caused by DOH, the test results of those who expired had been delayed. This happened in Talisay City. The relatives of the dead held a wake thinking that the latter died of another illness. But when the swab result came and the dead was found positive, all the people who attended the wake were considered “persons under investigation.” The dead was buried immediately. Does Bernadas want this to happen again? For the protection of the relatives and last responders (referring to doctors and funeral parlor personnel) postmortem of Covid patients is still very vital.

Can someone who died from Covid be buried? There are special protocols recommended for the funeral of people who died of the coronavirus. If the family wishes only to view the body and not touch it, they may do so using standard precautions at all times, including hand hygiene. Give the family clear instructions not to touch or kiss. Embalming is not recommended.

All dead bodies are potentially infectious and standard precautions should be implemented in every case. Although, most organisms in the body are likely to infect healthy persons, some infectious agents may be transmitted when persons are in contact with blood, body fluids or tissues of a dead person with infectious disease. To minimize the risks of transmission of known and also unsuspected infectious diseases, bodies should be handled in such a way that workers’ exposure to blood, body fluids is reduced. Maayo nang maniguro lang gyud ta.