Cases of methanol poisoning among tourists in Indonesia

April 10, 2013, 11:56 pm


Methanol poisoning among travellers to Indonesia. Giovanetti F. Travel Med Infect Dis 2013 Apr 6 [Epub ahead of print]


In 2009, 25 people died in Indonesia after consuming samples of the popular local drink called arak (or arrack) that had been contaminated with methanol. Since then, reports of fatal cases of methanol poisoning related to the drink have continued.

The author of this paper searched both scientific and popular media databases to identify cases of methanol poisoning associated with ingesting arrack. The time frame was January 1, 2009 through the present. He found 4 cases from bibliographic databases. Although none of these patients died, all developed permanent visual deficits. Search of popular media databases yielded 22 cases, with 18 fatalities. Although it is not clear whether methanol was present in the arrack from deliberate contamination or faulty distilling processes, it is notable that most of the products seem to have been consumed in popular tourist bars and restaurants.

A recent report described a typical case. A 19-year-old woman backpacker from New Zealand visited 2 bars in Denpasar Indonesia, drinking up to 10 arrack cocktails. In her native country 2 days later, she presented to the emergency room with decreased vision, tachypnea (34/min), dilated unreactive pupils, and metabolic acidosis. Her initial methanol level was 17.3 mmol/L (57 mg/dL). Despite treatment with hemodialysis and steroids, she developed persistent impaired visual acuity.

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