The fifth stage of decomposition, Putrefaction, is brought on by the early effects of true decomposition. It is the time that proteins begin to be broken down by bacteria into smaller and smaller elements until tissues are no longer cohesive and most organs turn to liquid. Putrefaction is when “rotting flesh” becomes evident both in appearance and smell. Before this stage, most of the excess gas build up is contained within internal organs. While they may release through the same avenues they do in life (windpipe, anus, vagina), it is during putrefaction that the body has softened to the point that these gasses begin seeping through the blood vessels and throughout the body, causing severe bloating of the torso and limbs. Generally, there is a purge of fluids which appear similar to blood, through the nose and mouth. Skin will often begin to rupture, creating a lesion for the bacterial gasses to escape through. Putrefaction causes the tongue to swell and protrude from the mouth, at this point identification of the body becomes difficult, if not impossible. When a body is in advanced stages of putrefaction, it is impossible to determine the cause of death unless there are signs of poisoning, gunshot wounds, or fractures.
During putrefaction there is also quite a bit of postmortem peeing, pooping and farting. Sometimes, uterine elapse or even a phenomenon known as “Coffin Birth” can occur in which a deceased, pregnant woman gives birth with the aid of bacterial gases escaping the vaginal canal. Larval infestations are common during this phase of decomposition if the body is left to the elements. Putrefaction can take place as long as the temperature is above 50 degrees Farenheit (10 degrees Celsius) and below 118 degrees F (48 C). It is optimum at 70-100 degrees F (21-38 degrees C). When between 88-100 degrees F (31-48 degrees C) the rate at which putrefaction takes place will usually double. As with the previous stages of decomposition, there are many factors that influence putrefaction. Moisture is necessary to the process, and rapid drying can bring putrefaction nearly to a halt. The body being exposed to air helps the process along, mostly because it allows microorganism and insects, which are an integral part of the process, to easily access the cadaver. Clothing will initially speed up the process because it aids in keeping the body at optimum temperature to produce bacteria for a longer period of time. Tight clothing, however, will restrict the blood and tissue, preventing the escape of gas and also the entry of insects and microorganisms. Children tend to putrify more rapidly, while the elderly putrify slowly. Obese corpses putrify much faster than lean bodies due to the excess tissue which holds in more moisture and heat, creating and sustaining optimal conditions for bacteria to multiply for longer periods of time. Eyes slide outwards from the sockets, or “pop out”, causing the facial features to become distorted. If the deceased is buried in a casket shortly after death, buried in sandy soil,and/ or buried deeper than 6 1/2 feet (2 meters), where the body is protected from moisture and insects, less putrefaction will take place. It will be rapid in damp, marshy environments, or if the body is buried in a shallow grave, without a coffin and/or clothing to protect the corpse from the elements. This stage of decomposition will begin quickly if the body is exposed to water contaminated by raw sewage with extremely high levels of bacteria. As in Livor Mortis, a cadaver in water will begin to show signs of putrefaction on the face, then neck, upper extremities and chest, abdomen, and finally the lower extremities. Signs of decomposition consistently appear in this order when a body is floating in water because the corpse is constantly in motion. Once the body has been removed however, putrefaction will speed up, being helped along by all the moisture the deceased body has absorbed.
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Follow us on Twitter @PostMortem_post Follow Strange Remains @StrangeRemains If you enjoyed this article, you may also like Everybody Poops: The Post-Mortem Edition and Demystifying the Process of Dying