Bootleg methanol kills and blinds
A woman in Tehran, Iran / Reuters
Iran is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As of Friday, there had been 53,000 cases and 3,300 deaths. But, adding to the misery of the disease, hundreds of people have died after drinking methanol as a “remedy”.
Most of the cases have been in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province and the southern city of Shiraz. About a thousand people are sick and between 300 and 400 have died.
“Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting on two fronts here,” Dr Hossein Hassanian, a health ministry adviser told the media. “We have to both cure the people with alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus.”
One casualty was broadcast on Iranian television: a five-year-old boy, who had apparently gone blind after his parents gave him methanol to drink, on a ventilator.
This avoidable disaster illustrates the danger of social media. Iranian social media promoted a report in British media of a schoolteacher who “cured” his coronavirus infection with whisky and honey. Government guidelines also encouraged the use of alcohol-based sanitisers against the virus. Unhappily a number of people concluded that drinking high-proof alcohol could kill the disease. And, living in a country where alcoholic beverages are banned, they were not aware of the difference between methyl and ethyl alcohol.
Local manufacturers of methanol add colouring to the liquid as a precaution, but black market suppliers add bleach to remove the colour.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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