300 Dead in Iran After Drinking Methanol to 'Protect from Coronavirus'
False believe of a COVID-19 'cure' leads to hundreds of deaths, 1000 people sick
300 people have been killed in Iran after drinking methanol due to a false belief that it would protect them from the coronavirus.
Fears of contracting COVID-19 have caused some people in the Islamic Republic to mistakenly believe that drinking toxic industrial alcohol will act as a "cure" or defense from the Chinese virus.
Over 1,000 more Iranians have also been left seriously ill from drinking the substance as Iran, with the 4th highest death toll in the world, battles to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the press, an Iranian healthcare worker in a hazmat suit and mask begged the public to stop drinking methanol as he stood over the still body of an intubated 5-year-old boy wearing nothing but a plastic diaper.
The boy is now blind and fighting for his life after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus.
The child is just one of hundreds of victims of a new epidemic inside the pandemic now gripping Iran, putting a huge strain on the already-over-stretched healthcare system.
Iranian media reports that more than 1,300 affected so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic, where drinking alcohol is banned and where those who do rely on bootleggers.
It comes as Tehran announced 144 new deaths from coronavirus on Friday, bringing its death toll to 2,378, and another 2,926 new confirmed cases, with a total of more than 32,300 infected.
There has been a spate of fake remedies spreading across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.
"The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around," said Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo who studies methanol poisoning and fears Iran's outbreak could be even worse than reported.
"When they keep drinking this, there's going to be more people poisoned."
As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines and a vaccine.
But in messages forwarded and forwarded again, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February.
Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, some wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.
International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials for days played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.
That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and internet rumors, saw dozens sickened by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz.
Videos aired by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck in their arms, laying on beds otherwise needed for the fight against the coronavirus, including the intubated 5-year-old boy.
Iranian media also reported cases in the cities of Karaj and Yazd.
In Iran, the government mandates that manufacturers of toxic methanol add artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind of alcohol that can be used in cleaning wounds.
Ethanol is also the kind of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.
Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added color before selling it as drinkable.
Sometimes it is mixed with consumable alcohol to stretch the supply, other times it comes as methanol, falsely advertised as drinkable, Hovda said.
Methanol also can contaminate traditionally fermented alcohol and cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks.
It causes delayed organ and brain damage.
Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness, and even coma.
"It is rumored that alcohol can wash and sanitize the digestive system," said Dr. Javad Amini Saman in Iran's western city of Kermanshah, where dozens have been hospitalized. "That is very wrong."
Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran.
One academic study found methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.
Other Muslim nations that ban their citizens from drinking also see such methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the only one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a fake cure.