Jane Austen, the popular female novelist who gave birth to timeless classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park, died in 1817 at the age of 41.
Very little is known as to what caused Austen's untimely demise. But latest evidence suggests that the author was almost completely blind because of cataracts before she passed away and had odd pigmentation around her face. Experts say the two are telltale signs of arsenic poisoning, although it's still unclear as to whether it contributed to her death.
What Is Arsenic Poisoning?
Arsenic poisoning, otherwise known as arsenicosis, is a medical condition triggered by oral intake, absorption, or inhalation of toxic levels of arsenic.
Arsenic is a semi-metallic element. A natural component of the Earth's crust, arsenic can be found in all groundwater in significant quantities. Because this toxic substance has no color, flavor, or odor, it's impossible to detect in the water just with the naked eye.
According to Dr. Cheryl Kinney, a national board member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, arsenic was ubiquitous in so many things during Austen's time. These include homemade wine (which the novelist refers to in her letters), wallpaper, clothing that had green pigment, glue, and medicines.
Symptoms Of Arsenic Poisoning
The first immediate signs of arsenic poisoning may appear within the next half hour after exposure. Oral ingestion of arsenic may cause minor symptoms, such as drowsiness, headaches, confusion, and awful bouts of diarrhea.
In the event that arsenic is inhaled, or only a minute amount has been ingested, the symptoms may take time and may only become noticeable when the arsenic poisoning progresses and spreads throughout the body.
Other reported symptoms of arsenic poisoning include:
• Violent convulsions
• A metallic taste in the mouth
• Excessive saliva to the point of having difficulty swallowing
• Blood in the urine
• Skin and fingernail discoloration
• Skin lesions and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet (hyperkeratosis)
When left untreated, long-term arsenic poisoning, in its advanced stages, may lead to complications in the bladder, lungs, and other internal organs. It may also manifest through chronic illnesses, including different forms of cancer, and lead to seizures, shock, comatose, or even death.
What Causes Arsenic Poisoning?
The biggest risk of arsenic poisoning comes from long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic from drinking contaminated water or even just using it in food preparation or in irrigation of edible crops.
The World Health Organization estimates that 200 million people around the world are affected by arsenic in drinking water at levels that go beyond the recommended limit of 10 µg/l1 set by the agency.
The majority of arsenic-exposed population usually come from southern Asian countries (such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, and Vietnam) and parts of Latin America (including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico).