Methanol Kills 19, Injures 24 in Central Europe. abcnews.go.com
. September 12, 2012. The Czech Republic announced emergency measures Wednesday to combat a wave of alcohol poisoning, saying that 19 people have died and 24 have been hospitalized after drinking vodka and rum laced with methanol.Methanol is mainly used for industrial purposes but since it's cheap and impossible to distinguish from real drinking alcohol criminals sometimes stretch black market alcohol with it to guarantee high profits.Prime Minister Petr Necas urged all Czechs to refrain from drinking "any alcohol whose origin is uncertain" but authorities still feared the death toll will rise.
Of the 16 people confirmed dead in the Czech Republic, eight lived in country's depressed northeast; two others died in neighboring Poland and one more in Slovakia, police said. Some of the victims have been blinded. Others have been induced into comas in the hope that doctors can save them.
Senior police official Vaclav Kucera said all the cases so far are likely connected and two suspects have been arrested, one in the eastern city of Zlin and another in the northeastern city of Havirov.
Police have raided over 400 kiosks and markets nationwide and found that about 70 of them were selling illegal alcohol.
Igor Dvoracek, a doctor in the eastern city of Ostrava, said autopsies might be done on about 150 other people who have died in recent weeks to see if they were also victims.
Read also: Czech police race to find source of methanol poisoning outbreak
September 13, 2012.The Czech authorities continue to struggle with an outbreak of fatal alcohol poisoning that’s so far claimed the lives of 18 people, apparently from drinking bootleg spirits tainted with the industrial chemical methanol. The government has banned sales of hard alcohol at outdoor kiosks and mobile stands, and says it’s ready to ban spirits outright if the number of deaths continues to rise.
The Czech health minister Leo Heger starting the latest televised briefing on the methanol crisis, which shows no signs of abating. Mr Heger told reporters a total of five people had been admitted to hospital with suspected alcohol poisoning in the last 24 hours, from three separate locations around the country. Many more remain in a serious condition; some are in artificially-induced comas as doctors try to save their lives. Few will leave hospital without permanent damage to their health; many people will be blinded for life. The health minister ended his briefing with this appeal to the Czech public.
“I want to repeat the following warning to all our citizens. If you’re hearing this message, if you’re aware what’s going on, then please think hard before consuming alcohol in the days to come. Especially if you normally buy alcohol on the cheaper end of the scale, as the risk there is still acute. If you think you might have ingested methanol, then don’t hesitate to visit your doctor. If you’re feeling unwell for a suspiciously long time after consuming alcohol then again, don’t hesitate and seek medical attention immediately.”
Most of the 18 confirmed victims are from towns and cities in the east of the country, mostly in northeast Moravia. Police have asked fire services there to test samples of seized alcohol – of 57 samples tested, 30 contained methanol, an industrial chemical usually found in anti-freeze and fuel.
But the race is still on trace the source of the poisoning, if indeed there is a single source. Police are trying to ascertain whether legitimate, albeit cheap spirits have been illegally diluted with methanol, or whether people have been unwittingly drinking pure methanol bottled with fake labels.
Some victims became ill after ordering over-the-counter spirits at outdoor booths and kiosks; others say they were drinking from bottles of locally-produced rum or vodka bought from shops and market stands. Several victims insist the bottles were correctly stamped and labelled.
Veteran anti-alcohol campaigner Dr Karel Nepor told Radio Prague he had great sympathy for the victims, but warned the media frenzy over the methanol scam was a distraction from a far more serious health problem facing society.
“Of course it is a very unpleasant and painful experience for many people and their families. But a much, much greater number of people are killed not because of methyl alcohol but because of ethyl alcohol, because of so-called high-quality alcoholic beverages.”
Police have arrested two men in North Moravia and seized four hundred litres of bootleg alcohol, in various bottles with fake labels and no tax stamps. Another man has been arrested on suspicion of distributing bootleg spirits. But there seems to be no proven connection with the spate of methanol deaths.
Meanwhile the authorities in neighbouring Poland and Slovakia have also reported fatalities, amidst reports Czech coroners may order autopsies on around 150 people who died recently and who weren’t – at the time - tested for methanol poisoning.
See also: Czech Republic bans spirits after methanol deaths
. September 14, 2012. In an unprecedented move to curb a wave of poisonings that has left 19 dead and dozens more in the hospital, the Czech Republic on Friday banned the sale of spirits with more than 20% alcohol, the Associated Press reports. Health Minister Leos Heger told the wire service that the ban is effective immediately and covers all possible outlets nationwide, including restaurants, hotels and stores. The move was sparked after methanol was added to black market vodka and rum. A deadly chemical, extremely difficult to distinguish from beverage alcohol by sight or smell, methanol is cheaper to produce and criminals often use it to extend their illicit stocks. The Czechs have the second highest (after Moldova) per capita alcohol consumption in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Read also: Norwegian doctor brings hope - and antidote - to methanol poison victims
September 14, 2012.“It’s fairly infrequent. In most parts of the western world, it’s fairly infrequent. It happens from time to time, but it’s usually only attempted suicides or suicides or accidents, or it’s outbreaks like this one happening right now in the Czech Republic. We did have a similar one in Norway, back in 2002.”
And were there fatalities in that outbreak?
“Yeah, we had 18 fatalities that we know of. But we’re pretty sure there were patients who were admitted to hospital and never got the diagnosis. They got different diagnoses. Then we had the families come into the hospitals later on and it appeared they’d been drinking the same liquor. But we know of 18 fatalities.”
That’s strikingly similar to the current situation in the Czech Republic. Tell me about this antidote that you’ve brought with you from Norway.
“Yeah, fomepizole. It’s a highly specific antidote that’s been used for quite a few years actually. It’s similar to ethanol in that it blocks the same enzyme, but it binds much more efficiently, and even more so, it’s easier to dose. It avoids many of the side effects of ethanol such as patients being drunk, and they don’t get as depressed.”
And you can administer the antidote when the patient’s unconscious, is that right?
“Yes. Actually you can even give it orally, you can let the patient drink it, for instance if it’s a child. But you usually would give it intravenously, and it can be given to all kinds of patients even after they’ve started receiving the ethanol infusion as an antidote.”
So you say the antidote stops the methanol from being broken down by the digestive system...
“From being metabolised, yes.”
But how then does the methanol leave the body?
“Humans eliminate ethanol primarily through breath and partly through their urine. But our clinical practice would be using dialysis to clean the blood. Then we would remove both the methanol and the toxic metabolite - the formic acid, and we would also correct the metabolic acidosis, which is a threat to the patient.”
And how effective is fomepizole?
“It’s highly effective. It binds extremely strongly to the enzyme, meaning if you are admitted early enough to hospital, we’re pretty sure we can save your life. The problem being that a lot of these patients are admitted fairly late. It depends on their clinical condition when they’re admitted to hospital; that tells us something about the outcome of the patient. But the fomepizole itself is highly efficient.”
So it is really a glimmer of hope for those suffering from methanol poisoning.
“Yeah, for sure. Like I said, as long as they’re admitted early enough, it’s definitely a glimmer of hope. Now we’re trying to organise some nationwide lectures for [Czech] doctors, who are doing a fabulous job by the way, and teaching them a little bit about fomepizole and what we consider the best techniques or treatment options.”The Czech health ministry says there have been no new deaths in the last 24 hours from the outbreak of methanol poisoning, and attention is now shifting to the 27 people still in hospital. Help has arrived in the form of an effective but expensive antidote called fomepizole, eighty boxes of which have donated by Norway. They were brought here by poisons expert Dr Knut Erik Hovda from the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Centre in Oslo. Radio Prague spoke to Dr Hovda shortly before he went into a meeting at Ostrava Hospital, and we began by asking him how common methanol poisoning was.