Methanol Poisoning in Rivers State, Nigeria

Consumers of locally brewed gin have been given a scare as 66 people reportedly died after drinking it in 4 districts of Rivers State, Nigeria.

Reported cases of abdominal pain, vomiting, fast-breathing, chest tightness and sudden blindness within a district of Rivers State drew the attention of public health officials. Investigations revealed they all consumed a local gin at a district restaurant.  Later on, similar cases were found in 3 other districts in Rivers State with traces to the same restaurant. As at this time, it is not certain if it is a point source of contamination, or if there are parallel sources in the other parts of Rivers State.

The locally brewed gin, called Ogogoro, is thought to have been contaminated with methanol, which some fraudulent merchants mix with the drink to cut cost of production. The drink is usually sold in motor parks and can ensnare low-income earners into addiction. The deaths in Rivers State are also linked to consumption of dog meat, because many of those affected also ate dog meat at the same time. In Nigeria, methanol poisoning has so far killed more peoplethan Ebola did during the outbreak last year.

In late April, the nation was thrown into confusion when 23 died in a community in Ondo State in southwestern Nigeria with similar symptoms—blurry vision, headaches, blindness and loss of consciousness. Initially attributed to a local deity punishing the villagers for violating its shrine, public health experts and the ministry of health later confirmed it stemmed from local gin contaminated with methanol.

With nearly 90 dead in 2 states over a period of 6 weeks, Nigeria banned the sale of Ogogoro on June 8. Other measures taken to curb further occurrences include public sensitization and ongoing tracing of the source and potential sources of methanol-contaminated foods and drinks.

Kattey Kattey, MBBS, MPH, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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