Philippines: Toxic coconut wine kills at least 11 people during Christmas celebration

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Luzan, Philippines (CNN)(12/24/19)— At least 11 people have died and hundreds more are being treated for suspected methanol poisoning after drinking locally made coconut wine during Christmas celebrations in the Philippines.

Lambanog, is distilled from coconut sap and has an alcohol content of 40% to 45% by volume.

According to the state-run Philippine News Agency, 300 people were hospitalized in the Laguna and Quezon provinces of Luzon, the country’s main island.

Signs of the poisoning include stomach ache, dizziness, and vomiting after drinking the generic brand coconut wine.

According to a news release issued by the Department of Health, a total of 265 people were hospitalized in the town of Rizal, Laguna.

The coconut wine, known locally as lambanog, is a potent palm liquor distilled from coconut sap with an alcohol content of 40% to 45% by volume. It is a popular drink during the festive season, which is widely celebrated in the Philippines.

According to the Philippine Food and Drug Administration, the lambanog tested positive for high levels of methanol, a type of alcohol that is toxic to the body, in some cases leading to blindness and death.

“Lambanog poisoning is caused by residual methanol, which in high levels, becomes highly toxic for humans. Methanol is a naturally occurring substance present during the distilling process, that should be separated and removed thereafter.”

Francisco T. Duque III, Health Secretary

According to Rizal Police Chief, Lindley Tibuc, the owner of a local distillery who had a permit to operate, Fred Rey, surrendered to police on Monday and could face multiple homicide and physical injuries charges.

The sale of lambanog has been temporarily banned in Laguna, and Rizal declared a state of emergency on Monday so that the government could offer financial assistance to the victims. That was little consolation to the victims’ families with the tragedy taking place during the holiday season.

The FDA stressed the importance of proper fermentation and production of coconut wine to prevent poisoning and said it had repeatedly issued warnings to lambanog distillers over the drink’s high methanol content.

According to presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, the government was “alarmed” over the reported poisoning cases and urged the public not to buy alcohol unless it was approved by the FDA.

This is not the first time people have died from drinking lambanog in the Philippines. Last December, at least 20 people in the regions of Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon died after drinking coconut wine.

According to the FDA, last year’s cases involved a different brand of lambanog to the most recent poisonings.

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