Health Professionals

Clinical Updates

25 September 2012

Methanol poisoning in Czech Republic

The Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic has reported an outbreak of methanol poisoning associated with the consumption of counterfeit alcoholic drinks [1].

As of 25 Sep 2012, a total of 24 persons have died from methanol poisoning and another 34 persons are currently hospitalised [2,3]. Most of the cases are reported from the Moravian-Silesian region in the north-east of the country, which borders Poland and Slovakia [2].

According to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), the poisonings were associated with illegal spirits on sale in markets, restaurants and pubs in the country that had been tainted with industrial methanol [4].

The health authorities in the Czech Republic are undertaking emergency control measures in connection with the growing number of cases of methanol poisoning.  Measures include: banning the sale and distribution, for the foreseeable future, of any form of liquor with alcohol content of 20% or greater, inspection of establishments where alcohol is sold and consumed, and nationwide public health announcements through the media warning the public of the situation [4,5]. Polish health authorities are assisting in the investigation and management of the outbreak [1-2].

Cases of methanol poisoning associated with consumption of alcohol purchased from the Czech Republic have also been reported in Prešov Region, Slovakia, but as of 18 September 2012, all hospitalised patients had recovered [6].

As of 19 September 2012, four deaths from methanol poisoning have been reported in Poland [7].

A complete ban on the import of alcohol from the Czech Republic, with a strength of more than 20%, has been declared in Poland and Slovakia [8].

Methanol poisoning and health effects

Methanol is toxic following ingestion, inhalation or percutaneous exposure. Acute toxicity from methanol manifests as intoxication characterised by ataxia, drowsiness, dysarthria and nystagmus, which usually starts within 30 mins of ingestion. There is then a latent period of varying duration from 8-36 hours and occasionally up to 48 hours. Subsequently, metabolic acidosis develops, superimposed with headache, nausea and features of ocular toxicity. Convulsions, coma and death may occur following substantial exposures. Long term effects following substantial exposure may include optic atrophy with blindness and/or permanent damage to the CNS. [5].

Management of suspected methanol intoxication requires referral to hospitalfor clinical assessment, including blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. Those with severe poisoning require treatment with antidotes (ethanol or fomepizole and folinic acid). Haemodialysis may also be indicated, as well as general supportive care. UK health professionals can obtain detailed management advice by consulting TOXBASE (www.toxbase.org) or contacting the National Poisons Information Service.

Advice for travellers

Travellers to the Czech Republic should avoid consuming locally produced alcohol and be aware that there is a ban on all products with alcohol content of 20% or greater.

The FSA is advising people that the following products may have been associated with the contamination and should not be purchased or consumed:

  • Hanacka Vodka
  • Vodka Drak
  • Merunka
  • Borovicka
  • Svestkova vodka
  • Vodka Lunar
  • Tuzemak

The FSA provides details of the labels of all the potentially contaminated products [4]  

Travellers should be extra cautious and vigilant regarding locally produced alcohol products bought as souvenirs. It is advised such products should not be purchased or consumed [3].

References

1. The Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic. Warning of the Ministry of Health. 21 September 2012. In Czech.  [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at: http://www.mzcr.cz/dokumenty/varovani-ministerstva-zdravotnictvi-cr_6746_1.html

2. The Ministry of Health of the  Czech Republic. Summary Information.. 19 September 2012. In Czech. [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at: http://www.mzcr.cz/dokumenty/dalsi-informace-ministerstva-zdravotnictvi-v-souvislosti-s-vyskytem-otrav-metyla_6802_1.html

3. The Food Standards Agency. Updated warning on Czech spirits. 25 September 2012. [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at: http://www.food.gov.uk/newsupdates/news/2012/sep/czech-ban

3. The Foods Standards Agency. FSA warning issued on drinking Czech spirits. 19 September 2012. [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at:

http://www.food.gov.uk/newsupdates/news/2012/sep/czech

spirit#.UFxsC3kfDGg

4. The Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic. The Ministry of Health announced a new emergency measures in connection with the growing number of cases of methanol poisoning. Developments in September, 2012. [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at: http://www.mzcr.cz/dokumenty/dalsi-informace-ministerstva-zdravotnictvi-v-souvislosti-s-vyskytem-otrav-metyla_6802_1.html

5. Health Protection Agency. Toxicological overview – methanol. http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1194947

357226

6. The Ministry of Health of Slovakia. A temporary ban on the import and sale of alcohol produced in the Czech Republic. 18 September 2012. [In Slovak]  [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at:

http://www.health.gov.sk/Clanok?docasny-zakaz-dovozu-a-predaja-alkoholu-vyrobeneho-v-ceskej-republike

7. Rospotrebnadzor. Press release. On the list of state registration certificates for alcohol strength of more than 20 degrees of the Czech Republic and Poland. 19 September 2012. [In Russian], [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at:http://goo.gl/U10iI

8. Rospotrebnadzor. Press release. The prohibition of the import and sale of alcoholic beverages of the Czech Republic. 21 September 2012 [In Russian], [Accessed 25 September 2012]. Available at: http://goo.gl/AaeNr

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