Discussion

The cases presented above serve to illustrate the potential for Diptera larvae to provide valuable information concerning periods of abandonment and/or neglect, particularly in cases involving the very young and the elderly. While the cases presented here have dealt with the living or individuals only recently deceased, as illustrated by the case documented by Benecke and Lessig (2001) in Germany, it is also possible for information also to be obtained concerning deceased individuals having a more extended postmortem interval. While the problems associated with neglect and abuse of children have been reported over the years, the current trend for an aging population has seen an increase in reports of cases of abuse/neglect in that growing population.

It is crucial that investigators are aware that the period of insect activity (PIA) does not always correspond to the PMI (Amendt et al. 2007). This is because the PIA could either be shorter than the PMI due to delay in access of insects to the body (e.g. initial burial or concealment of the body in a sealed room or a freezer), or longer, as in the cases involving myiasis (larvae feeding initially on necrotic tissues and continuing to feed following death). If the individual dies, as in 2.4, and collections submitted for analyses did not include the sites of infestations, the estimate would be made based on the most mature larvae as indicators of the minimum period of time since death. This would have been significantly longer than was actually the case. A similar situation would have existed in 2.3, had the child died.

One inherent problem in the use of myiasis causing larvae to establish periods of neglect/abandonment lies in the ability of those dealing with the problem to recognize the potential of such evidence. Even among the medical examiner community, there is still a tendency to want to remove maggots from a body as quickly as possible. This frequently results in loss of valuable data for use in the investigation. The situation is even more pronounced among social workers, pediatricians and emergency responders. All too often the first response to a wound infested by maggots is to remove and discard the specimens as quickly as possible and then clean and treat the wound. More recently, during 2007 in Hawaii, a child was seen suffering from dehydration and abuse, including necrotic wounds with maggots visible. The presence of maggots in the wounds was noted but no collections or further documentation was made. As a result, potentially valuable data concerning the period of abuse/neglect were lost.

The examination of remains or victims by an entomologist when insect evidence is present would serve to increase the utility of such evidence. This may not be possible in many instances for a variety of reasons, including legal ramifications in cases involving the living and simply geographic proximity in death investigations. Given that examination of the remains by an entomologist is most often not practical, first responders, emergency room personnel, and death investigators should be trained in proper techniques of recognition, collection and preservation of insect evidence.

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