Mystery surrounding deaths of female tourists in Asia

Poisoning the (Female) Tourist in Asia.

This summer, four young women set off on vacations in Southeast Asia. Here’s what they had in common: They were all from North America; they were all in their 20s; they were all pretty, bright, adventurous. And one more commonality: They all died.

Two of these deaths occurred in June in Thailand, two in June in Vietnam. All four women were diagnosed with the symptoms of acute poisoning. And while some explanations have been offered by the authorities, these have been either vague, improbable (see my recent post on the deaths in Thailand) or opaque (see CNN’s Friday story on the deaths in Vietnam). My favorite statement is one from the Thai police declaring that it could be “months before official results are revealed if ever.”

The other theory circulating is that the police are covering up the careless use of insecticides by Asian hotels; an explanation denied, of course, by the hotel industry. It doesn’t explain, of course, why most of these deaths involve females in their 20s. But there’s some support for it from an independent investigation into the 2011 death of New Zealander Sarah Carter.

The possibility of chlorpyrifos or some other insecticide poisoning has also been raised in this summer’s deaths of American Karin Bowerman, 27, of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and Canadian Cathy Huynh, 26, of Hamilton, Ontario. The two friends – both working as English language teachers in South Korea – were backpacking in Vietnam, when they were admitted to a hospital in the beach town of Nha Trang in late July, suffering from vomiting, dehydration and difficulty breathing. Bowerman died that day; Huynh two days later.

But so far no information seems to be available about how they might have been exposed to that or any poison. “No police report. No hospital report. No nothing,” Bowerman’s sister, Jennifer Jacques told CNN in a fury of frustration.

Source: Deborah Blum at Wired Science

This is so frustrating for the families. Answers are not forthcoming. Should people fear for their safety while traveling there? What should they be on the lookout for? The authorities have come off as “indifferent” and that’s a shame.