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HEAT‐RELATED DEATHS: THEORY AND ADELAIDE FINDINGS

Herbst, Jonathon

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Pathology - Journal of the RCPA: 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue - p S25
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The Australian environment can be austere with unrelenting extreme temperatures. Adelaide, South Australia, experienced extreme high environmental temperatures over a period of 2 weeks between January and February 2009 that resulted in a number of deaths either directly or with heat as a contributing factor to death. The forensic evaluation of heat related deaths relies on a strong degree of communication with investigators. The interface of the scene investigation and the autopsy examination is critical to these cases. A review of the literature will be presented, from which key data points that are essential to capture prior to autopsy will be addressed. The speaker will give examples of those individuals most vulnerable to high temperatures. A detailed analysis of risk factors and critical assessment of a data set encompassing markers from the Adelaide experience will be illustrated. This will be compared to the literature of experiences from heat waves in other large cities. Discussion will then shift to the forensic approach of the heat related death or suspected heat related death. The autopsy of such individuals can be fraught with challenges such as severe decomposition. Techniques useful in the performance of the autopsy will be discussed, and the utility of ancillary techniques will be explored. Unique aspects of toxicology data will be presented. Vitreous analysis will be discussed. Critical to these cases is the crafting and finalisation of the report. Reporting must be undertaken with care and sensitivity for the appropriate language. The heat related nomenclature will be reviewed, with special attention to the Adelaide experience. Throughout, case examples will illustrate pertinent findings. Potential pitfalls will also be discussed.

© 2010 Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia