Deaths in Dominican Republic linked to tainted alcohol

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More than 25 people have died in the Dominican Republic after drinking adulterated alcohol, according to authorities.

The Ministry of Public Health reported 26 deaths and more than 80 people affected throughout the country. The agency called on the population to not drink illegally produced alcoholic beverages.

The outbreak of methanol poisoning began during the Easter holiday and has affected people in Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo, Monseñor Nouel, Santiago and Puerto Plata.

Slightly more than half of those sick are men while a third fall in the 20 to 29 years old age group.

Ongoing investigation
Two possible sources have been identified; a homemade adulterated drink known as clerén and the other is a type of frozen cocktail. Clerén is an illegal alcoholic beverage without a health registration that is sold in bulk and consumed by poor people, because of its low cost.

Officials also believe some bottles of recognized alcohol brands in the Dominican Republic have been refilled with product containing methanol.

Investigations are ongoing with the Santo Domingo Oeste prosecutor’s office, police and Ministry of Public Health. Action has included raids in La Guáyiga, seizure of adulterated beverages, identifying possible suspects responsible for their manufacture and sale, taking samples and sending to laboratories, and requests for arrest warrants to authorities. Officials have also been to hospitals to check on the health of victims and interview their families.

A number of businesses have been closed and people have already been arrested. In Barahona, a lab and distillery was raided with 20 to 30 55-gallon tanks of product seized.

Dangerous intoxication by methanol can take a few hours to three days after ingestion and develops in three stages. First is weakness, dizziness, and nausea. The second stage can include vomiting, abdominal pain, disorientation, blurred vision, and occasional blindness. The third step involves hypotension, breathing issues and seizures.

Previous incidents and Costa Rica situation
Past methanol poisoning outbreaks occurred in December 2017 where 41 people were affected and December 2019 when four were sick and two died.

In April 2020, 369 cases were identified, including 227 deaths. More than 300 of those sick were males aged from 7 to 82 years old. Authorities seized and shut down clandestine factories that were using inadequate practices for the manufacture, conservation and sale of such a product.

In November 2020, nine men suffered methanol poisoning in the Santo Domingo Este municipality after consuming an adulterated drink.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing health alert in Costa Rica for the sale of alcoholic beverages adulterated with methanol that involves 14 products.

So far this year, 464 sites have been inspected to follow-up suspected adulteration with 1,164 products seized, and 451 samples taken.

Data from the national health agency shows there are 31 suspected cases of methanol poisoning this year and 15 deaths including 12 men and three women aged 25 to 76 years old.

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