Ebola Victims Still Infectious a Week After Death

Ebola virus can remain infectious for up to seven days on the bodies of monkeys that died from the disease, researchers show.

Feb 12, 2015
Bob Grant

A nurse surveys the grave sites of her colleagues that perished during the Zaire Ebola outbreak of August 1976.WIKIMEDIA, CDCThe vicious cycle of Ebola infection does not end with the death of a victim. According to researchers with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the virus can remain infectious for up to seven days post-mortem on the surface of monkeys that died from the disease. The findings highlight the importance of properly and safely handling the bodies of human Ebola victims as the epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa.

The study, which was published ahead of print in Emerging Infectious Diseases this week (February 11), constitutes “microbiological proof positive of what we’ve been observing in a field setting — that kissing or washing or caressing bodies is almost certainly the way a lot gets transmitted,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times.

NIH researchers at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana infected five macaques with Ebola and sacrificed the animals just before they would have died. They then placed the animals in temperature- and humidity-controlled chambers that recreated the climatic conditions of Liberia in August, and allowed the corpses to decompose for 10 weeks. Researchers swabbed the primates’ mouths, eyes, noses, skin, and other surfaces daily, plus took samples from several internal organs. Samples taken from the surface of the monkeys contained infectious virus for up to one week after the animals had died, and organ samples remained infectious for three days.

“These results will directly aid interpretation of epidemiologic data collected for human corpses by determining whether a person had [Ebola] at the time of death and whether contact tracing should be initiated,” the authors wrote in their paper.