An investigation into the suspicious deaths of six foreign tourists, including an American, in the resort city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has concluded that they were likely exposed to a deadly pesticide in the Downtown Inn. According to Thailand's Department of Disease Control, the hotel was likely using pest control chemicals to curb a rat or bug infestation that were so strong they killed the travelers. The deaths occurred in January and February and spread justifiable concerns that other Thai hotels might be putting their guests at risk.
COMMENT: Unfortunately, identifying a specific toxin that might have contributed to the deaths of the victims may be a bit of a challenge, considering that prompt autopsies were not conducted. The deaths began on January 11, when U.S. citizen Mariam Vorster, 33, of Berkeley, CA, was found dead in her room in the Downtown Inn. Her Canadian companion was also hospitalized. Three young New Zealanders staying next door became sick, one of which died a few days later (Sarah Carter, 23). On February 19, an elderly British couple were also found dead in the same hotel, which remains open. A Canadian, Bill Marsh from Edmonton, and a Thai hotel guest also died from symptoms similar to all of the other decedents (severe chest pain, vomiting and fainting).
A television broadcasting network in New Zealand, 60 MINUTES (not to be confused with the American show of the same name) has confirmed that the pesticide used in the Downtown Inn was Chlorpyrifos, which is banned in most countries, and particularly occupied buildings. Reporters from 60 MINUTES, posing as hotel guests at the Downtown Inn, took trace samples from Carter's room that were later confirmed as Chlorpyrifos.
It should be noted that American Jill St. Onge and Norwegian Julie Bergheim died in Thailand two years ago under similar circumstances.
Although foreign travel is one of the most memorable, satisfying and wonderful experiences any of us can have, we must be mindful that life safety processes and regulations that we take for granted in developed countries often do not exist in developing countries or are simply overlooked. Hence, we must all be consistently vigilant as to any sudden illnesses and seek attention promptly, which is why I have always insisted that my clients subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage in the event of an illness or injury abroad.
One last thought. While the cost of lodging impacts all of us economically when traveling abroad, one advantage of staying in internationally recognized hotels is that most have developed nation health and public safety standards.