Report: Tourist death in Vietnam not from poison
Cathy Huynh, left, and Kari Bowerman took this photo in Vietnam on July 23, seven days before they were first admitted to the hospital.
September 19th, 2012
09:25 AM ET

Report: Tourist death in Vietnam not from poison

Tourists Karin Bowerman, 27, of Wisconsin, and Cathy Huynh, 26, of Ontario, died mysteriously just days apart this summer in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Since then, family and friends have waited anxiously for the autopsy results.

Speculation on the women’s cause of death ranged from alcohol poisoning to insecticide poisoning. But authorities are now saying there were no traces of toxins in Bowerman’s blood or gastric fluids, according to the Tuoi Tre News, an English-language news site operated by Vietnam’s largest newspaper.

“She died from breathing failures, circulatory collapse due to brain edema,” Lt. Col. Nguyen Hong Ky, deputy head of the Nha Trang police department, told Tuoi Tre News. Brain edema is a buildup of fluid in the brain. The official autopsy report has not been publicly released.

On July 30, Bowerman and Huynh were admitted to Khanh Hoa General Hospital; both were vomiting, had difficulty breathing and showed signs of severe dehydration.

Bowerman died later that night. Huynh was released from the hospital and died two days later. Bowerman’s body underwent an autopsy in Vietnam, according to her family, while Huynh’s body was returned to Canada to be examined in Hamilton, Ontario.

Tuoi Tre News reported earlier that Bowerman’s medical samples had not been sent to Hanoi, Vietnam, for testing as late as two weeks after her death. The director of the local forensic examination center told Tuoi Tre News that the wait period could affect the results, even if the samples were well preserved.

The autopsy results from Huynh are not expected for several weeks.

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Filed under: Health • Travel • Vietnam
soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Nancy

    Toxins exist that have a very short half-life and also toxins that don't show up on standard tox screens unless specific tests for the toxin are performed. The forensic examiners may never be able to identify what killed them. It is too co-incedental for both girls to have died days apart from "natural causes"

    September 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. smokeee

    they're probably worried about tourism so making up BS. no way 2 people died 2 days apart from one another and its just coincidence.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • svann

      They didnt say that. They just said it wasnt poison.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • LIARS

      Look. One died from head trauma... and the other from... let's see... we're working on that... quick... think of something... maybe she died of a broken heart! yeah! That's the ticket! CHEAP HOLIDAY PRICES IN VIETNAM FOLKS. GET YOUR CHEAP TICKETS.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      I agree 100%.

      They are either hiding something or they are incompetent.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      It's called BIRD FLU. And yeah it won't show up this late after a test. Duh.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Abraham

      There are many causes of Brain edema besides head trauma. Some of which are Meningitis, Toxoplasmosis, and Encephalitis. Any of these could be factors, and any are reasonable considerations.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. joeymom

    So... why would two women get brain edema at the same time?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mik

      DUHHHHH... poison... sheesh

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • joeymom

      They have ruled out poison. That is what the article was about.

      September 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      The autopsy results from Huynh are not expected for several weeks.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave seattle

      A very bad virus, bacteria, or amoeba could cause that. It could have been a very bad case of bacterial or viral meningitis. Regardless, it is very sad that these two young ladies died. Hopefully, they are in a better place.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TonyInNYC

    Breathing failures, circulatory collapse due to brain edema caused by poison - or a bacterial or viral infection you can contract in Vietnam.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • theRESULTS

      Look. No matter how you slice them... they died from VIETNAM!!!

      September 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. john barley

    what about all the other tourists who have died in the same mysterious manner over the years? and why tear down the building where they were staying at the time of theiir deaths so soon after the event?

    September 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. T

    I honeymooned in Nha Trang, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The people are delightful and scenery is gorgeous. My heart goes out to these families. I hope they get answers.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matt

    sounds like acute radiation exposure – whole body doses over ~100 Gy would lead to brain edema and plenty of acute GI symptoms

    September 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • svann

      Doesnt your hair fall out as well?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave seattle

      That could be the case, but that is so unlikely, it is absurd. The most likely scenario is meningitis or a virulent bacteria, virus, or even an amoeba.
      To the other poster: hair falling out doesn't happen right away.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. us_1776

    Time is of the essence in testing any medical samples.

    Samples can degrade quickly.

    Samples should be tested immediately to capture everything that is present.


    September 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kare

    Read CNN's previous article about this Sept 13 especially the section called Seeking Answers. It quotes the EPA and a UN toxic chemical consultant. The insecticide in question is chlorpyrifos is banned in most countries but still used in Vietnam and Thailand for bedbugs. There's no way they can say unequivocally it wasn't poison. Here's a quote: The problem is that chemical poisoning is very hard to verify. Chlorpyrifos' half-life - or the amount of time that passes before half of the original amount disappears - in humans is about one day.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • mre2

      The issue with arguing for chlorpyrifos is that the symptoms reported are not consistent with acute chlorpyrifos toxicity. Chlorpyrifos is a cholinesterase inhibitor, so it acts on the central nervous system. The symptoms of acute poisoning typically are those associated with neurotoxicity and include headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, muscle weakness, nausea, diarrhea and changes in heart rate. Severe poisoning can also include muscle tremors, seizures, coma and death.

      However, as I noted below, what we are seeing is a news report from local police, not medical professionals. Very little of the case histories has been reported.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mre2

    Only one thing is clear, the Vietnamese have no clue about the cause of death.

    This is a report coming from the local Nah Trang police, not knowledgeable medical professionals. The symptoms being described are likely far from complete – just vomiting, difficulty breathing and signs of severe dehydration. That's unlikely to be the full picture. What is described as the cause of death - breathing failures, circulatory collapse due to brain edema - reflects a mechanism of death, but not a cause. The denial of poising without mentioning what the tox screen is also far from conclusive.

    From what little has been reported about these two girls deaths to date, it sure sounds like much more a poisoning incident, and not infectious disease. But there is more that is not known than is known. It seems the only hope that the families of these two young women have in understanding what happened will be the Canadian pathologist who is examining Cathy Huynh.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lynn Anner-Bolieu

    Why hasn't anyone mentioned the color (bluish-grey) of Ms. Bowerman's face and hands in the photo. Isn't that from colloidal silver?

    September 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • bunny

      Looks like clay or mud, not discoloring. Still, could be a clue.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lynn Anner-Bolieu

    Why hasn't anyone mentioned the color (bluish-grey) of Ms. Bowerman's face and hand in the photo? Isn't that due to intake of colloidal silver?

    September 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gal

      That's mud. They're at the annual mud festival held in South Korea.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • jdmire2

      What? Are you WebMD-ing or something. Where would they consume colloidal silver? That is almost as ridiculous as the person saying it was radiation poisoning. It is either a viral or bacterial infection that spread to the CNS to cause meningitis. My bet is an Arbovirus

      September 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. theRESULTS

    No matter how they slice them... they, in fact, died from VIETNAM!

    September 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. tilmeismoney

    How sad it is.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Piranha

    Lets all not jump to conclusion, wait for the Canadian test results. Hope there are other doctors interested on this because this help clear up a lot of lingering questions the family has. A follow up on this article should be published to inform the public and not to create panic.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
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