Tainted alcohol kills 20, sickens 21 others in Costa Rica

Source - Ministry of Health,
Source - Ministry of Health,
Updated: Jul. 21, 2019 at 7:18 PM EDT
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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (WAFB) - Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health on Friday, July 19, confirmed it was investigating 19 deaths linked to methanol poisoning from tainted alcohol. On Wednesday, July 24, that number rose to 20, bringing the total of people exposed to the toxic liquor to 41.

Methanol is a colorless watery alcohol used as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source. Early on, for a period of about 1 to 72 hours after exposure, a person suffering from methanol poisoning may be asymptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When symptoms become apparent, they include the following:

  • Accumulation of acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis)
  • Blindness
  • Drowsiness
  • Reduced level of consciousness (CNS depression)
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to coordinate muscle movement (ataxia)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heart and respiratory (cardiopulmonary) failure
  • Death

The Ministry of Health said of the confirmed cases, fifteen are men and five are women, aged between 32 and 72 years.

The agency said 18 of the 20 victims were Costa Ricans, one was Nicaraguan and the nationality of the latest victim has not yet been released.

The cases were documented on the following timeline:

  • Week 23 (June 2-8): 1 case
  • Week 26 (June 23-29): 2 cases
  • Week 27 (June 30 to July 6): 2 cases
  • Week 28 (July 7 to 13): 8 cases
  • Week 29 (July 14-20): 6 cases

About 30,000 bottles of alcohol suspected to be poisoned were seized by the government Friday. The following brands were identified among those confiscated by government officials:

  • Guaro Montano
  • Guaro Gran Apache
  • Star Brandy
  • Baron Red Brandy
  • Timbuka Brandy
  • Molotov Brandy
  • Aguardiente Estrella
  • Aguardiente Barón Rojo
  • Aguardiente Timbuka
  • Aguardiente Molotov

Information documented by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 noted outbreaks of methanol poisoning typically arise from the consumption of adulterated, counterfeit, or informally-produced drinks.

The Ministry of Health says law enforcement will penalize establishments caught selling the tainted products.

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