Day-to-day life brings us all many challenges. Understanding this reality, perhaps nothing outpaces these basic challenges than discovering the body of a person who has experienced an unattended death which requires unattended death cleaning services. This is particularly traumatic when the deceased individual is a family member or other loved one.
If you ever find yourself in a position in which you need to address the aftermath of an unattended death, you need to have an essential understanding of two primary factors associated with the tragic situation. First, you need to have a basic knowledge of the risks associated with the discovery of an unattended death. Second, you must understand what is involved in an unattended death cleanup, which truly is better referenced as biohazard remediation.
What is an Unattended Death?
An unattended death is one that is broadly defined as occurring when a person dies with no one else around, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. An associated reality with an unattended death is that the remains of the deceased individual are not immediately discovered. The stark reality associated with a surprising number of unattended deaths is that days, weeks, and even months may pass before the remains of the deceased individual are discovered.
Examples of more common types of unattended deaths include:
- Fatal diseases or illnesses
- Natural causes
A significant number of unattended deaths happen in a person’s home. Oftentimes, this is an individual who lives alone. As a result, the deceased person may not have had regular visitors during life, which is the reason the death is not discovered in a more immediate period of time.
Approximately 600 unattended deaths occur in the state of California annually. That breaks down to between one and two unattended deaths every day in the state. Approximately one-third of the unattended deaths in California occur in the greater Los Angeles area.
What Happens Immediately After a Person Dies an Unattended Death?
There are differences in what happens immediately after an unattended death depending on whether the cause of death was traumatic or not. If the death was traumatic, and likely resulted in the release of blood and other bodily fluids, the scene may immediately be contaminated with bloodborne and similar pathogens. In addition, the decomposition process commences.
If the death was not traumatic, the decomposition process commences immediately, however potentially dangerous pathogens likely are not immediately released into the scene. That process will likely begin between 24 and 48 hours after the person passes on.
Human Decomposition scientifically is defined as “the reduction of the body of a former living organism to simpler forms of matter,” according to Science Daily. In simple, unadulterated terms, the body begins the process of decaying.
The remains of the deceased person will begin to experience outwardly noticeable physical changes directly after death. These include the cooling of the remains to the ambient temperature surrounding the body. Blood will begin pooling at the point of the body nearest to the ground. Gravity causes this collection because blood is no longer circulating. Rigor mortis, a stiffening of the body (precisely, the muscles) begins between 8 to 12 hours after death.
Many people believe that rigor mortis is a permanent state. It is not. From the onset of full rigor mortis, the body remains inflexible for approximately 12 hours. After that time, the body begins to regain its flexibility.
More profound changes are begin happening within the body directly after death. These changes are not initially noticeable and center on the decomposition of the body.
What is Involved in the Decomposition Process?
The decomposition process represents a truly unsettling aspect of the aftermath of an unattended death. The decomposition process is what underpins the potential exposure of people who come into contact with the scene of the death to potential biohazardous materials, including bloodborne pathogens.
Contemplating the decomposition process is unpleasant. Nonetheless, if you find yourself facing an unattended death, you need to have a basic understanding of what is involved in this process.
The human body contains tremendous amounts of bacteria. Indeed, bacteria in the body outnumbers the cells that make up a human being. A considerable percentage of that bacteria is found in the pancreas and the intestines of a living human being. Within any living person, there can be between 500 and 1,000 different types of bacteria in the “guts” of a person.
The moment a person dies, the nutrient supply to these untold numbers of bacteria is cut off. Thus, bacteria look somewhere else for these vital nutrients.
The bacteria with the body, specifically in the pancreas and intestines, begin to “feed on” the organs themselves. Between 24 and 48 hours, bacteria in an unattended body cause these organs to completely break down. When these organs disintegrate, bacteria flood the remainder of the body.
At this time, decomposition begins to become evident on the exterior of a body through:
- Release of gases
A bit beyond the two-day mark, the skin encompassing the body will begin to break down, eventually causing tears and ultimately gashes through which biohazardous liquids will be excreted from inside the remains.
Ultimately, because of the manner in which decomposition occurs, dangerous pathogens are released into the area surrounding the body via bodily fluids and into the air through dangerous gases.
What Should I do if I Discover an Unattended Death?
If you are in the difficult position of discovering the aftermath of an unattended death, you need to do two things immediately:
- Remove yourself from the immediate scene of the death to protect your own safety
- Call 911 to obtain assistance from appropriate emergency personnel
While your immediate instinct may be to go to the side of the deceased individual, particularly if it is a family member or other loved one, you must not do that. You run too great a risk of exposing yourself to potentially harmful biohazardous substances. You will have time later on to appropriately mourn the loss of your loved one.
You also need to do your best to secure the scene until emergency personnel arrive. In other words, you need to keep other individuals away from the scene of the death. This is necessary to keep them safe and to preserve the scene in the event some sort of crime resulted in the demise of the deceased individual.
Depending on what preliminary determination is made about the cause of death, the scene can be treated in different ways. For example, if there is evidence suggesting the death was the result of homicide, the police and the coroner’s office will spend time collecting evidence at the scene.
The body will be transported to the coroner’s office for forensics examination. This process can include a number of steps, including an autopsy and perhaps other laboratory tests. In most cases, the remains will be available for release within 24 to 48 hours. If you are a family member of the deceased, you will have 72 hours to arrange for the transport of the body from the coroner’s office to the funeral home. When you engage the services of a funeral home to care for the remains, the mortuary will undertake transport when notified to do so.
As an aside, you may not immediately get a final determination of the cause of death. If additional laboratory testing is needed, that process can take six weeks or longer. The coroner will nonetheless issue a death certificate, with the cause of death listed as pending for the time being. A death certificate is necessary to proceed with the disposition of the remains of the deceased person and to commence the probate process, if necessary.
How do I Undertake an Unattended Death Cleanup?
The basic reality is that you likely lack the training to undertake this task, you would expose yourself to dangerous risks by cleaning up after an unattended death. Finally, you likely to not have access to the equipment and chemicals needed to ensure that all biohazardous materials are eradicated from the scene of an unattended death.
When you discover the remains of a loved one following an unattended death, you’ve enough emotional weight to carry without adding the additional trauma of personally cleaning up the scene. Adding the burden of personally cleaning up the aftermath of the death heightens the possibility that you’ll experience traumatic grief. Traumatic grief is an ultimately unhealthy response to the death of a loved one. Traumatic grief can stem from, of be compounded by, the discovery of a loved one’s body following an unattended death.
In addition to traumatic grief, some people fact the prospect of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD who discover the body of a loved one after an unattended death.
Simply put, the best course to undertake for an unattended death cleanup is to retain the services of a skilled, experienced, compassionate biohazard remediation specialist.
What Does a Professional do to Undertake an Unattended Death Cleanup?
As a forethought, the professional unattended death cleanup process needs to commence as soon as possible. Once the remains of the deceased are removed, and the premises are cleared by law enforcement or the coroner’s office, the remediation process can commence.
The surest way to prevent long-term damage to the premises is to start the remediation process immediately. Starting the cleanup promptly brings a halt to the ongoing damage that occurs because of the presence of biohazardous and other materials associated with an unattended death.
A key element of an unattended death cleanup is dealing with biohazards. A biohazard is defined as biological material (like blood) that contains pathogens that have the ability to produce negative effects on humans. Biohazard remediation is the process of eliminating harmful substances that are associated with the remains of the deceased individual. Biohazard remediation involves more than just “cleaning up” the obvious aftermath of an unattended death.
The steps of unattended death cleanup, of biohazard remediation, are:
The initial step in the overall process of unattended death cleanup is actually cleaning up the physical aftermath of the individual’s passing. This includes removing all blood, bodily fluids, other biological materials, and any physical items that have been contaminated by these potentially harmful substances.
Personal protective equipment is mandatory for biohazard remediation in the state of California. This gear includes:
- Smock or proper outer clothing
- Eye protection (goggles)
- Mouth protection (surgical mask or respirator)
All biohazardous materials, including items contaminated by biological substances, must be placed in a red bag or red box and properly conveyed to a certified biological waste disposal professional. Biological hazardous material oftentimes is incinerated under strict guidelines developed by the state of California. Although some different technologies are now being utilized to eliminate biohazardous waste, for years the most common way of destroying this type of waste has been through incineration.
The next step in the biohazard remediation process is sanitizing the scene. The initial cleaning process does not kill dangerous bacteria and viruses that can be found at the scene of an unattended death. Medical-grade chemicals provided by a biohazard remediation professional eliminates these harmful substances.
One truly troubling aspect of the decomposition process is the release of putrid gases. If a body is left unattended for more than a few days, the odors emitted as part of the decomposition process are intense and difficult to eliminate. Special commercial-grade deodorizing chemicals are utilized by a biohazard remediation procession to eliminate even the most persistent odors. California has specific regulations governing what processes can be utilized to effectively deodorize the scene of an attended death or similar type of situation.
The final objective of the unattended death biohazard remediation process is to restore the premises to a fully habitable condition. This is vital for the safety of your own family. In addition, complete remediation is vital if and when you place your home up for sale. If a business is the scene of the remediation, the objective is to render it fully usable and completely safe.