U.S. Medical Examiner/Coroner capability to handle highly infectious decedents.
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In the United States of America, Medical Examiners and Coroners (ME/Cs) investigate approximately 20% of all deaths. Unexpected deaths, such as those occurring due to a deceased person under investigation for a highly infectious disease, are likely to fall under ME/C jurisdiction, thereby placing the ME/C and other morgue personnel at increased risk of contracting an occupationally acquired infection. This survey of U.S. ME/Cs' capabilities to address highly infectious decedents aimed to determine opportunities for improvement at ME/C facilities serving a state or metropolitan area. Data for this study was gathered via an electronic survey. Of the 177 electronic surveys that were distributed, the overall response rate was N = 108 (61%), with 99 of those 108 respondents completing all the questions within the survey. At least one ME/C responded from 47 of 50 states, and the District of Columbia. Select results were: less than half of respondents (44%) stated that their office had been involved in handling a suspected or confirmed highly infectious remains case and responses indicated medical examiners. Additionally, ME/C altered their personal protective equipment based on suspected versus confirmed highly infectious remains rather than taking an all-hazards approach. Standard operating procedures or guidelines should be updated to take an all-hazards approach, best-practices on handling highly infectious remains could be integrated into a standardized education, and evidence-based information on appropriate personal protective equipment selection could be incorporated into a widely disseminated learning module for addressing suspected or confirmed highly infectious remains, as those areas were revealed to be currently lacking.
Autopsy; Coroners; Forensic pathology; Highly infectious diseases; Medical examiners; Personal protective equipment