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Elisa Lam Found In Hotel Water Supply: Health Risks From Drinking Contaminated Water

Elisa Lam Found In Hotel Water Supply

Following the unfortunate discovery of Elisa Lam’s lifeless body in the roof-top water supply tank of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, California, questions have arisen to the possible waterborne infections or diseases guests may have since acquired when they repeatedly came into contact with contaminated water.

The young Canadian tourist was found Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Maintenance workers made the gruesome finding, prompted by guest complains regarding poor water pressure. Lam was last seen alive Thursday, January 31, 2013.

The Inquisitr recently reported how the hotel water was rendered black, presumably due to her decomposing remains. Hotel guests spent weeks bathing and ingesting tainted water. The LA County Department of Public Health investigated the potential threat. Health officials deemed the exposure as “minimal,” especially since the chlorine in the water expectedly killed any bacteria in the tank.

In the event a body is left to naturally decompose it undergoes several stages. Decomposition begins at the moment of death, promoted by two factors: autolysis, the breaking down of tissues by the body’s own internal chemicals and enzymes, and putrefaction, the breakdown of tissues by bacteria.

Within the first 24 to 72 hours anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen requiring) indigenously housed in our digestive tract begin to break through visceral barriers and proliferate. The homeostasis of our own bodies keep this bacteria at bay while we’re alive.

Bloat follows, caused by gases released from the bacteria. From there the body advances through active decay, advanced decay, and ultimately to skeletonized or mummified remains depending upon the environment. Exposure, clothing, submersion, and temperature can all effect the timing of this process.

There can be serious health risks associated with improper preparation, handling, and disposal of cadavers. This is especially important regarding how the person expired. The risk of contracting an infection from a corpse, having died from a non-disease related fatality, is negligible. According to health professionals, the fear of pernicious ailments from bodies killed by trauma rather than disease is not justified.

The World Health Organization (WHO) dispels the myths and misunderstandings of diseases associated with corpses. People think of typhus or plagues spreading disease with the bodies themselves, failing to rationalize the bodies are infested with lice and fleas, the actual transmitters. Cases of epidemics like cholera and ebola (hemorrhagic fever) pose more considerable health threats to those in direct contact with an afflicted corpse.

When a decomposing body interacts with a water source, those who come into contact with the water thereafter are most likely going to develop gastroenteritis. This is a medical condition characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and small intestine). Signs of gastroenteritis are vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. Symptoms begin within 12 to 72 hours of exposure to infectious agents.

The primary cause of gastroenteritis is contact with the bacteria E. coli, such as from uncooked or mishandled poultry and or fecal matter. It can also be contracted through viruses and parasites. Patients who are not immunosuppressed are usually able to recover on their own as long as they don’t become moderately or severely dehydrated. Otherwise intravenous treatment is necessary.

The substances cadaverine and putrescine are produced during decomposition. They are toxic if massive doses are ingested. If applied to humans, a person would be significantly affected by 20 grams of pure putrescine. Dilution and exposure to elements such as chlorine would significantly break down these byproducts.

Lam’s cause of death is still being determined as her autopsy was inconclusive.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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