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AIIMS, Safdarjung Hospital begin testing bodies for Covid-19 before conducting autopsies




Medics arrange samples of a new fast test (Rapid test) for coronavirus at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital during a nationwide lockdown on 18 April 18 | R Senthil Kumar | PTI
Medics arrange samples of a new fast test (Rapid test) for coronavirus at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai during a nationwide lockdown on 18 April 18 | R Senthil Kumar | PTI

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New Delhi: It isn’t just the doctors who treat the living that are at risk of being infected with Covid-19, but also those who deal with the dead.

To ensure that doctors conducting autopsies do not get infected, many hospitals are now testing bodies for Covid-19 before sending them for post-mortem, ThePrint has learnt.

For instance, in Safdarjung Hospital, both identified and unidentified bodies are being tested for the virus before a post-mortem.

“There are clear instructions that before any case is sent to the mortuary, a sample of the body has to be taken and tested for Covid-19,” a source at the hospital said.

“In these times, each body that comes to the hospital should be considered as a probable carrier of the virus which may spread the infection, and hence must be tested. This is because even if a person has died of some other illness, we cannot be sure if he or she was infected or not,” the source added.

“After the dead body is brought in, a sample is first taken. Then the body is sent for preservation, till the reports come. The autopsy is conducted only after the test results are out and we are sure that it is not carrying the virus,” he said.

The bodies of patients who die of Covid-19 are also not being sent for post-mortem at any hospital across the country.

“We have been asked to carry out an autopsy on Covid-19 positive body only if absolutely unavoidable. Till now we have not got any such case,” the source said.

Also read: In pandemics, forensic pathologists deal with morgues, mass graves and infectious remains

Disposing bodies

Determining if a body has the coronavirus not only protects personnel but also ensures that it is disposed of properly without further endangering anyone.

According to the source at Safdarjung Hospital, there is a clear procedure of disposal for infected bodies.

“Most hospitals now have body disposal committees that ensure that Covid-19 positive bodies are cremated or buried after proper procedure,” he said.

If a body is found to be Covid-19 positive, then it is not directly handed over to the family. It is not allowed to be taken home and someone from the hospital accompanies the family to the cremation ground to ensure there is minimum contact between people and the body.

“We coordinate with the police and also the cremation staff. The body is disposed of in presence of the hospital staff so that unnecessary handling of the body can be prevented,” he said.

Also read: June Almeida — the woman who discovered first coronavirus but was told she was wrong

‘Minimal autopsy’

Even though bodies are supposed to be tested for Covid-19 before being sent for an autopsy, some hospitals do not have enough kits to carry out the testing. Sometimes, the test result can be faulty.

Thus, forensics teams have been asked to follow a set of guidelines while doing an autopsy for any body.

According to a source in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the teams have been advised to carry out a “minimal autopsy” or “no internal dissection”.

“Sometimes the bodies can be asymptomatic and so they may not test positive at the first go and may still carry the virus. Hence, we ought to be extra cautious while dissecting them,” the AIIMS source said.

“That is the reason we are now going with minimal autopsy, which includes CT scan and other measures, or minimal or no internal dissection. This at least puts the person conducting the autopsy at minimal risk,” he said.

Safdarjung Hospital, on the other hand, does not have equipment for a minimal autopsy and so they conduct a complete body dissection but while wearing proper gear.

“Wearing personal protective equipment is absolutely mandatory, especially in these times, while conducting an autopsy,” a second source from the hospital said.

Also read: R0 data shows India’s coronavirus infection rate has slowed, gives lockdown a thumbs up

Lesser workload, but higher risk

For forensic teams, autopsies are just part of the work they do. Given the lockdown, crime rates have dropped, which has resulted in their workload reducing by half. However, it has meant they need to be more cautious while dealing with bodies due to Covid-19.

“Murder cases are almost nil but we are still getting bodies of the homeless, many of them unidentified and even natural deaths. The accident cases, though have decreased, but are still being reported as many people (have been) driving recklessly due to empty roads,” a second source from AIIMS said.

“Most cases have almost come down by half as compared to our normal workload but our work has certainly become riskier as we are more likely to catch the virus if we err in taking proper precautions,” the source said.

Also read: Sick doctors, shut hospitals, no guidelines — a Wockhardt doctor on India’s Covid response


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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