Alcohol tainted with methanol suspected of killing at least 19 people in Costa Rica

International

Some of the brands of alcohol confiscated by the Costa Rica Ministry of Health after 19 people died from methanol poisoning linked to tainted liquor. (Photo: COSTA RICA MINISTRY OF HEALTH, CBS)

(CBS NEWS)- Costa Rica has issued a national alert about tainted alcohol after 19 people were confirmed to have died over the past few weeks from methanol poisoning. The government says several alcohol brands have been tainted with methanol, a poisonous alcohol found in solvents and antifreeze.

Since early June, 14 men and five women across Costa Rica have died from methanol poisoning, according to the Ministry of Health. They ranged in age from 32 to 72. Seven of the deaths were in the San Jose province, which includes San Jose, the most populous city in Costa Rica.

The Ministry of Health said information on the deaths is “preliminary” and an investigation is ongoing.

The government has confiscated about 30,000 bottles of alcohol suspected to be poisoned, under the brands Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Aguardiente Estrella, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka and Molotov Aguardiente. The Ministry of Health warned against consuming alcohol from those brands. Vendors who sell the drinks could face criminal sanctions.

Symptoms of methanol poisoning include acute abdominal pain, headache and lack of coordination in body movements. Victims often seek medical treatment only after a delay, because symptoms tend to appear long after methanol has been consumed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO said methanol poisoning outbreaks are tied to counterfeit or informally-produced drinks. There have been recent outbreaks in about a dozen countries, including India, Norway, Turkey and the Czech Republic. 

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