Toxic levels of methanol were linked to the deaths of 14 men and five women in several cities across Costa Rica, including San José, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, and Limón

By Dave Quinn
July 22, 2019 10:04 AM
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tainted alcohol Costa Rica Ministry of Health
Credit: Costa Rica Ministry of Health

The Costa Rica Ministry of Health has issued a national alert after 19 people died from consuming alcohol tainted with toxic levels of methanol.

In a press release, officials said that since June, a total of 14 men and five women — all between the ages of 32 and 72 — have died from the poisoning. Their deaths have been reported in several cities across Costa Rica, including San José, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, and Limón.

Investigations are ongoing, officials said, but as a precaution the government has confiscated nearly 30,000 bottles of alcohol they believe to be contaminated.

They warned alcohol drinkers from consuming said spirits, including photos of the affected bottles from brands Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Estrella Aguardiente, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka and Molotov Aguardiente in their release.

“The Ministry of Health continues to carry out operations throughout the national territory in order to reduce the exposure of consumers to adulterated products,” they wrote, in Spanish.

Methanol — which is typically found in antifreeze, varnishes, and fuels — is often added to counterfeit or informally made alcoholic drinks, according to the World Heath Organization.

“Some illicitly-produced drinks are made to appear legitimate through bottle design and labelling and consumers can be misled into believing they are buying a genuine brand of alcohol,” the WHO warned. “Bottles may be sold in shops, markets and bars, often at a ‘bargain’ price.”

The widely available chemical can mimic the feelings of inebriation, though consumption can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, muscle paralysis and death, WHO said.

Outbreaks throughout the world have been on the rise in recent years, in areas like Cambodia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Turkey, and Uganda, the WHO reported.

Each have ranged in size from 20 to over 800 victims, with case fatality rates of over 30 percent, according to the WHO.

The WHO urges consumers to refrain from purchasing illegal alcoholic drinks, be aware of the symptoms of methanol poisoning, and to seek medical attention immediately.