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Handling Remains That Contain Drug-Resistant Acinetobacter

By: Erin Brown, Industrial Hygienist, Safex

Handling Remains That Contain Drug-Resistant Acinetobacter
By Erin Brown, Industrial Hygienist, Safex

In the past month, Safex has received two phone calls from funeral homes asking how they should handle remains of individuals whose death had been caused or influenced by Acinetobacter bacteria. Though Acinetobacter infections rarely occur outside of healthcare settings, embalmers and those who handle remains should be aware of this drug-resistant group of bacteria.

Acinetobacter is commonly found in soil and water, and also on the skin of both healthy and ill people. Many species can cause disease, but 80% of reported infections are linked to the species Acinetobacter baumannii. Healthy people do not need to be overly concerned about Acinetobacter infection, but like most other bacteria, Acinetobacter can pose a much greater threat to those whose immune systems are weakened. Those more susceptible may include people on a ventilator, people with open wounds, and people with diabetes. Acinetobacter can cause pneumonia (with early signs such as fever, chills and cough) and serious blood or wound infections.

Acinetobacter can be spread from person to person, by contact with a contaminated surface, or by exposure to bacteria found normally in the environment. It can survive outside of the body for several days, and can also survive in a seemingly healthy or unaffected person and be transmitted to others. Treatment is decided on a case-by-case basis by the person's doctor because this bacterium is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics. Though Acinetobacter typically only occurs in very ill patients, it often contributes to death in those patients.

What can you do to prevent contracting and spreading Acinetobacter? Observe universal precautions as you would for exposure to bloodborne pathogens: Always treat remains as if infected, wash your hands frequently and clean all working surfaces with a 10% bleach solution or a product that kills HBV, HIV and tuberculosis.

Additional information on Acinetobacter infections can be found at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website:

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