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Stages of Human Decomposition is a Natural Process


When we are born, our bodies are made of the earth and when we die, the chemicals and materials our bodies are created with pull apart and return to the ground. Whether that return is through burial, cremation, or gradual decomposition, the gifts we are given in life are given back into nature to be reused once more.

Decomposition can be dangerous for other living beings

While the decomposition of a human body is all a completely natural process, it can also be a dangerous one for other living beings. While our bodies have the potential to carry and pass along many diseases, our bodies also keep many inside in our blood and other bodily fluids. When we pass away and our bodies begin to break down, however, all those diseases, often in the form of bacteria and viruses, are released back into the environment and are then free to infect others.

If you ever come across the decomposing body of a person who has passed away, it is important to keep your distance and call the police. Only those properly trained in how to protect themselves while cleaning up after someone who has passed away should approach the body and clean up the resulting fluids.

How fast can a body decompose?

How fast a body decomposes is controlled by many factors such as the surrounding environment (water/soil/air), how exposed the body is to the elements and animals, how many bacteria are present, and even how a person died. With more organisms present, the body breaks down faster. If a body is cut off from the surrounding environment, the process will be slower.

Still, no matter how a person died or what environment their body is in, the body, left alone, will go through the five stages of decomposition as materials return to the earth.

Stages of Human Decomposition

Stage 1 – Breakdown Begins

The decomposition process begins as soon as a person passes away. Without the brain controlling body temperature, the body starts cooling down to match whatever temperature of the surrounding environment. In hot conditions, the body doesn’t cool that much and the breakdown process goes relatively quickly. In cool environments, such as snowy conditions, the decomposition process progresses slowly. This is why morgues refrigerate bodies – by slowing down the decomposition process, there is more time to prepare the body for a funeral and to keep other people safe from potential diseases.

The second sign of the first stage of decomposition is the muscular rigidity due to lack of blood and oxygen flow. Without the heart pumping, blood follows the pull of gravity and settles in the lower parts of the body. Inside the intestines, the naturally occurring bacteria start devouring the intestinal walls and breaking down these tissues. Outside the body, blowflies are attracted to the dead tissue as a safe place to lay their eggs.

Stage 2 – Bloating

As the bacteria inside the body processes the internal tissues and multiplies, they produce the byproduct of gases including hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and methane. With nowhere to go, the gases build up inside the body to the point the body looks bloated. This pressure will work its way out through any opening of the body including the mouth and nose or the pressure will create an opening of its own. If flies are present, the maggots start to hatch at this stage and the creatures feed on the body tissues, breaking them down further. Other visible signs of this stage are the hair detaching and the skin slipping away.

If a person passed away and isn’t found right away, it is often at this stage a body is found due to the gasses and fluids giving off a foul odor.

Stage 3 – Active Decay

In the third stage of body decomposition, the largest amount of body mass is processed by insects and bacteria. As the large number of creatures consume the material and release it as liquid and gas, whatever materials laying around the body becomes further infected with bodily fluid. At the end of this stage, most soft tissue has decomposed and the maggots have moved on from the body.

Stage 4 – Advanced Decay

By the time the body reaches the fourth stage of decomposition, most of the skin, organs, and muscles have decomposed. What is left are the harder materials such as cartilage, ligaments, bones, and hair. For these, nature has provided creatures such as beetles and other types of flies with chewing mouthparts to arrive and consume this thicker material.

Stage 5 – Dry Remains

The last stage of human decomposition is when any materials left from the earlier stages dry up and only the skeleton is left. Even the hair is digested by moth larvae and mites. Exposed to weather, the skeleton’s color with lighten and is eventually buried below the ground.

If you need help cleaning up after a person dies

If a person has passed away on your Arizona property and hasn’t been found for a time, our staff at BioTeamAZ will step in once the coroner leaves to make sure all fluids and body tissue have been fully removed and the entire affected area is disinfected. With compassion and knowledgeable customer service, we’ll make the sure the environment is safe and you are free to move forward.

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