A new study published by the IRSST established that certain tasks performed by workers engaged in embalming activities were likely to generate an increase in concentrations of bioaerosols. The tasks that result in a bellows effect or splashing were the most emissive activities identified.
The researchers were able to identify strains of non-tuberculous mycobacteria in two of the three laboratories studied. In addition to mycobacteria, several bacteria from the Corynebacterium, Dietziaceae, Gordoniaceae, Nocardiaceae and Streptomycetaceae families were found in the three labs. Finally, Streptococcus pneumoniae, a human pathogen in Risk Group 2, was cultured in samples from two laboratories. The culturing of Streptococcus pneumoniae proves that bacteria from human respiratory tracts are found in culturable condition in the air of embalming labs.
Geneviève Marchand, the main researcher explains: “few studies have addressed occupational exposure to bioaerosols in embalming, either quantitatively or qualitatively. However, several of the actions that embalmers take with dead bodies produce bioaerosols that may contain infectious pathogens. Since most of the bioaerosols have diameters of less than 4 µm there is a strong possibility of being deposited in the respiratory tract and a strong potential to circulate in the air of embalming rooms. Often, general ventilation is the only method used to control bioaerosols in embalming labs; nevertheless, there are no specific recommendations for applying it.”
The study assesses embalmers’ exposure to bioaerosols in order to evaluate the potential risks to their health and examine the effect of certain factors on the behavior of biological particles in the air. Considering the difficulty of identifying the existence of pathogens in dead bodies and the great diversity of work tasks the research team recommends that, at minimum, the wearing of air-filtering respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as a disposable filtering facepiece (N/R/P-95/99/100) or an elastomeric half-mask with P100 filter cartridges, should be considered.