The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)

Drinking toxic ‘cure’ for virus leads to 300 deaths

- BY NASSER KARIMI

Nearly 300 people have reportedly died, with more than 1,000 falling ill in Iran, from drinking toxic methanol after rumours it can help cure Covid-19.

In the Islamic Republic, alcohol is banned and drinkers rely on bootlegger­s.

Fake stories about coronaviru­s remedies have spread on social media in Iran, where people are deeply suspicious of the government, which initially downplayed the crisis that has now overwhelme­d the country.

Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologi­st in Oslo, Norway, who studies methanol poisoning, fears Iran’s outbreak could be even worse than reported.

“The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around,” he said.

“When they keep drinking this, there’s going to be more people poisoned.”

Iran has been hit particular­ly hard by the pandemic. It has a population of 80 million people.

In February, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of coronaviru­s with whisky and honey.

The Islamic Republic has reported around 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths from the virus, the highest of any country in the Middle East.

The fear of the virus, coupled with poor education standards and internet rumours, initially saw dozens of people made ill by bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Khuzestan province and the southern city of Shiraz.

In Iran, the government mandates that manufactur­ers of toxic methanol add an artificial colour so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the type of alcohol used in cleaning wounds.

Ethanol is also the kind of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks, but its production is illegal in Iran.

Some bootlegger­s in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added colour before selling it as drinkable.

It cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks, and causes delayed organ and brain damage.

Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventi­lation, blindness and coma.

Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran.

One academic study found methanol poisoning affected 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.

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