The Costa Rican Health Ministry said it has confirmed 19 deaths from the consumption of alcohol tainted with methanol.
The ministry said in a Friday report that the investigation is continuing, but it has counted 14 men and five women who have died since early June after drinking adulterated liquor. The victims were between the ages of 32 and 72. Seven of the deaths were in the San Jose Province, which includes San Jose, the most populous city in Costa Rica.
Government officials have seized around 30,000 bottles suspected of containing methanol, 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.
Aguardiente translates to English as “fire water.” Both it and guaro are traditionally distilled from sugar cane.
Liquor sellers sometimes dilute products with toxic methanol to increase profit margins or raise alcohol content.
Methanol poisoning can cause confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and the inability to coordinate muscle movement. Even small amounts can be toxic.
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 that outbreaks of methanol poisoning are linked to fake or informally produced drinks. In about a dozen countries, including India, Norway, Turkey, and the Czech Republic, there have been recent outbreaks.
This year, at least 154 people died and more than 200 others were hospitalized after drinking tainted alcohol in India.
Includes reporting from the Associated Press