Histopathological Differentiation of Drowning in Freshwater and Saltwater in Rats: Forensic Point of View

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Mahrous A Ibrahim; Abeer M Hagras; Athar M Khalifa; Zinab Abd-Elhady Ali; Galal A Eid; Abdullah Rehman & Osama S Elserafy


The postmortem diagnosis of death by drowning is one of the most difficult issues in forensic pathology. We investigated possible evidence differentiating saltwater drowning from freshwater drowning by histopathological changes in brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys tissues. A cross section descriptive study was carried out on eighteen 12-week-old male Wistar rats; they were divided equally into 3 groups. Group 1: control group; Group 2: death by drowning in freshwater; Group 3: death by drowning in saltwater. Immediately after death, all tested organs were removed and fixed for histopathological examination. The brain of freshwater group depicted degenerated neurocytes with dystrophic changes in the form of shrunken cell, pyknotic nuclei and deeply eosinophilic cytoplasm. The heart showed clear evidence of myocyte injuries in saltwater drowning compared to the control and freshwater groups. The kidneys of rats drown in saltwater revealed more glomerular destruction with no differences in tubulo-interstitial changes in comparison with those drown in freshwater. In the lungs, the changes in freshwater were restricted to the alveoli, and the bronchial changes were more distinctive in saltwater. No disturbed liver architecture was seen in both test groups, however hydropic degeneration, congested vessels, and sinusoids were more distinct in saltwater group. In conclusion, diagnostic differentiation between fresh and saltwater drowning was reliable in rats’ lungs and heart with minimal differentiation in liver, kidneys, and brain. Further studies of drowning with different staining techniques will help to clarify the potential role of histopathological changes in body organs as indicator of drowning.

KEY WORDS: Drowning; Saltwater; Freshwater; Histopathology; Medico-legal.

How to cite this article

IBRAHIM, M. A.; HAGRAS, A. M.; KHALIFA, A. M.; ALI, Z. A.; EID, G. A.; REHMAN, A. & ELSERAFY, O. S. Histopathological differentiation of drowning in freshwater and saltwater in rats: Forensic point of view. Int. J. Morphol., 40(4):1134-1146, 2022.