Poison in Paradise
By Dr. Deborah Mills
Methanol poisoning of travelers has recently been in the news. An Australian teenager has died from methanol poisoning after a New Year’s eve visit to a bar in Lombok, Bali. His father reported that his son was served what he thought was imported vodka, mixed with lime from genuine bottles behind the bar.
There have been cases of poisoning in Indonesia, most notably in Bali and Lombok, from alcoholic drinks adulterated with harmful substances, particularly methanol. Locals and foreigners, have died or have become seriously ill. Cases have usually involved local spirits and spirit-based drinks, such as cocktails, but supposed brand name alcohol can also be adulterated. A number of deaths have also been reported after drinking adulterated arak – a traditional rice based spirit.
This issue of spiked drinks is a growing problem around the world. Travelers always need to guard their drink so nothing unexpected is dropped in. Isopropyl alcohol is a topical anti-antiseptic. Typical household preparations contain 70% isopropanol. Also used as a solvent in many household, cosmetic, and topical pharmaceutical products.
This substance is the most common toxic alcohol exposure, reported to poison centers in the United States. Cases occur in the thousands, but toxicity is rarely severe.
Methanol was used by the Egyptians as an embalming fluid. It is used in industry to make formaldehyde and in the production of plastics and biodiesel. It is mixed with alcohol to make ‘metho’. As little as 10ml can cause blindness. The story of bootleg alcohol causing blindness comes from the effects of methanol.
Travel safety includes choosing safe alcohol.
- Only drink beverages from a trusted source.
- Only drink beverages you have opened and poured yourself.
- Ideally don’t drink from already opened bottles.
- Don’t accept drinks from anyone unless you know them well.
- Watch your drink.
- Stay with your friends. If you start to feel dizzy or ill, ask someone you trust to take you to a safe place.
- Drink in moderation. Excessive alcohol increases the risk of injury from fights, and accidents.
Dr. Deborah Mills is an Australia based medical doctor and author, with over 25 years experience specializing in global travel health.
Photos © Indonesia Tourism, Beverage Daily