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Methanol-laced drinks kill 54 people in Peru

At least 54 people have died of methanol poisoning in Peru since mid-September, the country's Ministry of Health announced this week. Their deaths came amid a significant uptick in hospitalizations for methanol ingestion in and around Lima, which officials have linked to bottled alcoholic beverages contaminated with the toxic compound.

The health ministry said that it has registered 117 cases of methanol poisoning over the past month, as the agency works with leaders in Peru's capital city to raise awareness about laced drinks and how to identify early symptoms of methanol toxicity.

"It is the highest figure (of methanol poisoning) in recent years," the head of the ministry's National Center for Epidemiology, Eduardo Ortega, told AFP while speaking about the recent increase in cases.

On Sunday, the health ministry had urged people not to consume vodka-passion fruit and piña colada flavored drinks sold in two-liter plastic bottles by the company Punto D Oro.  La Digea, the General Directorate of Environmental Health and Food Safety in Peru, conducted tests that found bottles of both flavors contained methanol, an ingredient in windshield washer fluid and antifreeze that bottles of both flavors that found methanol in showed both contained methanol, an ingredient in windshield washer fluid and antifreeze that is toxic and possibly deadly when consumed.

The health ministry warned that the drinks posed "serious damage to the health of people who ingest them." It has taken steps to remove the products from liquor stores and supermarkets and encouraged anyone who sees them being sold to notify local authorities. 

The warning came after dozens of intoxication cases were reported at hospitals in and around the capital Lima.

According to the Methanol Institute, a global trade association, "unscrupulous enterprises or individual" sometimes deliberately add methanol to alcoholic drinks as a cheaper alternative to safe and consumable ethanol.

Poisoning can also occur through improper brewing of homemade alcohol, it said.

Symptoms of methanol poisoning can include: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty, blindness, blurred vision, seizures and comas, according to the institute. Drinking as little as 0.8 ounces can be fatal.

Outbreaks of methanol toxicity have been reported across the world. In 2019, Costa Rica issued a national alert about alcoholic beverages potentially contaminated with the chemical after recording an increase in cases of fatal methanol poisoning. This past July, methanol poisoning was suspected to have killed 21 teenagers at a bar in South Africa.

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