blood alcohol levels after death

Miller 4amiller at bellsouth.net
Thu Mar 8 18:54:44 EST 2001

Here are some references--hope they help.

Forensic Sci Int 1999 Dec 20;106(3):157-62
Origin of blood ethanol in decomposed bodies.
de Lima IV, Midio AF
University of Sao Paulo, Medicolegal Institute, College of 
Pharmaceutical Sciences, Brazil.
Problems related to blood contamination by other postmortem fluids in 
decomposed bodies (DB) make the interpretation of medicolegal blood 
alcohol levels (B EtOH) a very difficult task. So the aim of this paper 
is to show the utilization of vitreous humor (VH) as the biological 
fluid for an unequivocal determination of ethanol origin in DB for 
forensic purposes. Alcohol was determined in VH, blood (chest fluid-CF) 
and urine (Ur) collected from 27 DB in different states of putrefaction. 
A simple head-space gas-chromatographic method was used. In fifteen 
cases alcohol was found to be of endogenous production due to its 
absence in VH. In the twelve remainders, alcohol was detected in VH and 
CF in an atypical distribution. Examining the reliable scene and 
historical information together with the analytical data, ethanol origin 
in these cases was classified: endogenous production (3 cases), ingested 
(2 cases), both (2 cases), contaminated plus endogenous production (3 
cases) and unable to determine (2 cases). According to the results 
obtained it was possible to conclude that alcohol analysis in VH is 
fundamental for determining the origin of ethanol detected in CF of DB.

Mil Med 1998 Oct;163(10):722-4
Ethanol level differential between postmortem blood and subdural hematoma.
Riggs JE, Schochet SS, Frost JL
Department of Neurology, West Virginia University School of Medicine, 
Morgantown, USA.
Alcohol use is a major risk factor for accidental injury and death. 
However, when death occurs several hours after injury, ethanol in the 
blood may be absent or low. Ethanol in sequestered hematomas has been 
used to retrospectively implicate alcohol as a contributing factor at 
the time of injury. A 69-year-old man died from a large acute subdural 
hematoma. He had been seen in a hospital emergency department 8 to 12 
hours before his death for treatment of two lacerations (one on the 
head) that occurred during a fall. Postmortem blood ethanol was 0.07%, 
and subdural hematoma ethanol was 0.04%. This ethanol level differential 
between the postmortem blood and the subdural hematoma indicates that 
this man had consumed alcohol after being released from the hospital.

J Clin Pathol 1998 Mar;51(3):250-2
Unacceptably high site variability in postmortem blood alcohol analysis.
Sylvester PA, Wong NA, Warren BF, Ranson DL
University Department of Surgery, University of Bristol, Bristol Royal 
Infirmary, UK.
Blood alcohol concentration is a frequently requested test in forensic 
pathology. The variability of this value was studied by measuring the 
blood alcohol concentration from six sites in nine subjects at necropsy 
in whom alcohol was the implicated cause of death. There were small 
consistent differences in the blood alcohol concentrations between the 
sites in the nine subjects (p < 0.04). Calculation of the mean 
blood:vitreous humour alcohol concentration ratio (B:V ratio) showed 
that vitreous humour alcohol concentration most closely reflected the 
concentration at the femoral vein (B:V ratio = 0.94, r = 0.98), which is 
considered the optimal site for blood alcohol measurement. The 
correlation of left heart blood with femoral blood was lower compared 
with the other sites. There is a potential for an unacceptably large 
variation in the postmortem measurement of blood alcohol within each 

Dr. Charles Miller
Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and
Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research
rellim at tulane.edu


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