Methanol Poisoning Emergency in Nicaragua

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Forty-eight persons died and 15 were blinded by the toxic effects of methanol in an incident of mass poisoning in Nicaragua. Between 2-20 September, 801 people were treated for methanol poisoning following the ingestion of home-brewed local alcohol known as “guaro,” which had been adulterated by methanol. Most cases occurred in the departments of León and Chinandega.

The Network of Toxicology of Latin America and the Caribbean (RETOXLAC) played a critical role by providing information to Nicaragua’s Toxicology Reference Center on case management, identifying a new antidote and making a network member available for on-site technical assistance. A U.S. drug company, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, donated the antidote medicine—1,200 vials were delivered to Nicaragua and put to immediate use. 

PAHO/WHO’s role included identifying experts to review protocols for poisoned patients; coordinating the health response and implementing contingency plans. It also organized epidemiological surveillance at the local and national level, and supported the Ministry of Health in active case detection at the grass roots level by helping to train 533 Nicaraguan health staff. PAHO/WHO also assisted in the coordination and management of the donation and importation of the antidote (Fomepizole) and the local purchase of other essential drugs and supplies.

What is methanol?
Methanol is a clear, colorless liquid with a faint odor like alcohol, making it impossible to detect when mixed in alcohol.  

How much is too much?
Less than a teaspoon of methanol can cause blindness and more than 4 teaspoons can be fatal. 

What are the effects of methanol?
Drinking methanol causes the same effects as excessive drinking, with the addition of pronounced vision problems.  However, after the effects disappear, they reappear six to 30 hours later with much greater severity. The most seriously poisoned lose consciousness and die of respiratory or heart failure. Others may linger in a coma for as long as a week and may be left blinded.
 

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