Did a three-star Thai hotel inadvertently kill six of its guests while trying to poison bed bugs?
Between January and March, six people suffering from virtually the same medical symptoms died after staying at the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai or using its facilities.
Authorities maintain the deaths are just a coincidence.
But an investigation by New Zealand’s “60 Minutes” news program discovered high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical used to kill bed bugs, in the hotel room where New Zealand backpacker Sarah Carter, 23, died in February. Reporters pretending to be guests took samples from the room.
The UK Daily Mail reported that Thai police recently raided the company in charge of eradicating insects at the hotel.
“I think (Carter) has been killed by an overzealous sprayer who has been acting on the instructions of the hotel owner to deal with the bed bugs,” United Nations chemical expert Dr. Ron McDowall told the Daily Mail.
McDowall said the symptoms experienced by Carter were consistent with chlorpyrifos poisoning, which causes headache, nausea, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, increased sweating and salivation, unconsciousness and convulsions.
He explained that it’s difficult to confirm poisoning from blood samples because chlorpyrifos is quickly absorbed by the body – “it only has a half-life of a day or so.”
The symptoms shown by all six victims – severe chest pain, vomiting and fainting – are often associated with food or water poisoning. Indeed, police initially dismissed the deaths as food poisoning from eating toxic seaweed.
Shortly after Carter’s death, a retired British couple, George Everitt, 78, and his wife, Eileen, 73, were found dead in their room. They had eaten seaweed at a street food booth, but another guest had a different meal there and also got sick. She recovered.
The death of Bill Mah of Edmonton – found in his hotel room in January – was attributed to “suspected natural causes.”
A young Frenchwoman and a Thai visitor also died at the hotel between January and March.
A report that a Berkeley woman died after staying at the hotel was incorrect. Mariam Soraya Vorster, 33, did suffer the same symptoms before she died while visiting Chiang Mai in January, but she was staying at a guesthouse in the city. Her husband blames the food she ate – sushi and seaweed.
The Downtown Inn remains open, with rooms starting at $41 a night.
‘Bed bug pesticide poisoning’ killed Californian woman and six other tourists in Thailand (UK Daily Mail)
The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai