Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Thought experiment: In an unfortunate accident in the future my heart will stop exactly at 0:00:00 due to a cause which kills me instantly but leaves my body intact (poison, electric shock, whatever). Now "I" does not mean only my body cells, but also extremely many microorganisms on my skin, in my blood and in my innards. These will not vanish instantly with my death.

Viruses have no metabolism so I see no problem that e.g. an influenza virus on my hand which I used to cough before should still be contagious. Bacteria on the other hand will find the environment (depleting oxgen level, sinking temperature) more and more hostile.

So my question is: How long can contagious microorganisms survive my demise ? Describe after which time they are neutralized and why. And after which time is my body completely harmless ?

ADDITION: This answer is not influenced by a specific disease. The question I ask is more from a scientific view, so if you have bad feelings by the question or the way I ask it, it is not intended. If you have the fear that answering the question truthfully could be wrongly understood by laymen, say so.

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by MattDMo, Bez, user137, Superbest, The Last Word Nov 10 at 3:57

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

See any article on Ebola for an answer to that! Also, if this is a homework question, should you identify it as such? –  anongoodnurse Nov 7 at 18:22
This is not a homework question ! I asked for both vectors: viruses and bacteria. And I am not interested in a specific disease but what exactly happens with microorganisms, so I asking more about pathology. And I must add that I find your answer a bit offensive. –  Thorsten S. Nov 7 at 18:26
Interesting question. As a quick thought: Bacteria will survive for quite a while since they can deteriorate the corpse. –  Chris Nov 7 at 18:50
@ThorstenS. We get a lot of homework questions here so when we see anything by a new user we almost automatically assume it's homework related. Anyway, asking about pathogens in general makes this a very broad question and would be hard to answer because the decomposition process would change many bacterial populations. –  user137 Nov 7 at 18:51
As pure speculation, I assume the normal flora in our guts are kept in check by our immune systems and other features only found in living bodies, once we die, they are free to attack our tissues. Pathogens are adapted to survive in conditions of a living body, such as warm temperature, and are probably outnumbered by the gut bacteria. So when the host dies and the immune system is shut down, the gut bacteria overwhelm the pathogens. And some pathogens can stick around for a while after death and infect other humans, such as ebola mentioned in @anongoodnurse 's comment. –  user137 Nov 7 at 19:07