Unattended Death and Cadaver Odors

Life is not without its challenges and traumas. Few people make it through their lives without experiencing some type of challenging, even horrific, event. An example of a uniquely horrible situation is discovering the remains of a person who suffered an unattended death. Similarly challenging is not actually discovering a body in this setting but losing a family member in that manner and having to address the aftermath of unattended death cleanup.

Dealing with an unattended death, either through discovery of the remains or cleaning up the aftermath, impacts a person on a number of different levels. This type of situation represents a uniquely emotionally challenging experience, in no small way because of the impact an unattended death has on the senses.

A potentially overwhelming aspect of confronting an unattended death is the associated cadaver odors. Most people are understandably unfamiliar with the scientific basics associated with cadaver odors. In addition, they also tend to lack the experience, skills, and resources to thoroughly address and eradicate cadaver odors following an unattended death.

Overview of Unattended Death

Before diving into an examination of cadaver odors, a clear understanding of an unattended death is necessary. As the term instructs, an unattended death is one in which an individual passes away alone. However, that is only an element of the situation. An unattended death is also one in which the remains of the deceased individual are not discovered for a prolonged period of time. Days, weeks, or even months can pass before a body is discovered. As a result, the human decomposition process is well underway, with all of its ghastly results.

Human Decomposition and Cadaver Odors

Despite the horrific nature of human decomposition, it is an interesting scientific process. Decomposition commences the moment a person dies. The body is an ecosystem in and of itself, filled with trillions of different types of microorganisms. These include a myriad of bacteria, including:

  • Lactobacilli
  • Bifidobacteria
  • Escherichia coli
  • Streptomyces
  • Rhyzobia
  • Cyanobacteria

These are what commonly are referred to as “good bacteria” and contribute to the healthy operation of the human body. The most significant number of bacteria is located in an individual’s intestines and pancreas.

When death occurs, blood ceases to flow and bacteria lose their supply of nutrients. When this occurs, bacteria turn to the body itself for nutrients to survive. The intestines and pancreas are the first to be assaulted in this manner. After a couple of days, these organs end up nearly completely broken down. As a result, bacteria are released in astronomical numbers throughout the rest of the body.

As mentioned a moment ago, the decomposition process is an extraordinary scientific phenonium. It involves over 400 different chemical compounds, a good number of which contribute to the creation of gases that prove to be powerfully malodorous.  There are six specific gases that are most prevalent in regard to cadaver odors. These are:

  • Cadaverine and putrescine (rotting fish odor)
  • Skatole (feces odor)
  • Indole (mothball-like odor)
  • Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor)
  • Methanethiol (rotting cabbage odor)
  • Dimethyl disulfide and trisulfide (foul garlic odor)

In addition to the foul stench associated with the human decomposition process, the gases emitted from a corpse can also contain potentially hazardous pathogens. In addition to the nature of the stench of decomposition itself, the risk of being exposed to potentially harmful airborne pathogens of some type represent another reason why unprotected contact with emitted gases is not recommended. Entering an area in which a decomposing corpse is located necessitates proper personal protective equipment, including a respirator, for optimal protection.

Cadaver Odors are Pervasive

Because of the strength of the gases associated with human decomposition, the odors generated can be pervasive. By this it is meant that not only do they result in a strong, repugnant stench in the air, but they can “work” themselves into fabrics and other porous materials. In other words, although the stench can be eradicated from the air at the scene of an unattended death with moderate ease, the same cannot be said about removing odors from items located at the scene which have ended up infused by the gases.

As a result, a person facing the need to undertake an unattended death cleanup is very wise to engage the services of a biohazard cleanup professional. Professional biohazard cleanup is also recommended because of the potential health risks mentioned a moment ago as well as the possibility that blood and other bodily fluids contain dangerous pathogens as well. Finally, taking on the responsibility for unattended death cleanup adds an additional level of emotional stress and strain on top of an already challenging grief and bereavement process.