Contaminated alcohol kills 19 in Costa Rica, warning issued

(Photo: Ministry of Health)

COSTA RICA (WTHR) – Costa Rica's Ministry of Health issued a nationwide warning after at least 19 deaths were attributed to methanol poisoning from contaminated alcohol consumption.

The Health Ministry said the deaths occurred in June and July in the towns of San José, Cartago, Limón, Guanacaste and Heredia. The victims, aged from 32 to 72, include 14 men and five women.

An alert was issued on July 5 after results from lab samples found that alcohol products packaged in bottles with the labels "Guaro Gran Apache," "Firewater Red Star," "Guaro Montano," Firewater Red Baron," "Aguardiente Timbuka" and "Aguardiente Molotov" were contaminated with methanol.

The Health Ministry said it believes the toxic alcohol circulating nationwide are counterfeit products of registered brands. Because it is not possible to distinguish the counterfeit product from the real one, the ministry said people should avoid selling or consuming the brands.

The deadly consequences of drinking alcohol mixed with methanol depend on the person's weight, whether that person is a habitual drinker and the methanol concentration in the drink, according to the Health Ministry.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that methanol consumption can cause a wide range of adverse health effects including headaches, seizures, kidney failure and death.

Methanol is primarily used as an alternative fuel source, a pesticide or a chemical solvent, according to the CDC.