Eight people died and hundreds were taken to hospitals in the Philippines after drinking coconut wine believed to contain high levels of methanol, authorities said Monday.
The victims all attended gatherings over the weekend in the town of Rizal, southeast of Manila, and complained of stomach pains after drinking the wine, known locally as “lambanog”.
Nine victims are in a critical condition, Jose Jonas Del Rosario, spokesman for the capital’s Philippine General Hospital, told AFP. “We asked many of our doctors on holiday leave to report to work just to attend to the patients,” he said, adding that the need to treat large numbers who arrived with symptoms of alcohol poisoning meant other people were turned away.
In total, 300 victims were taken to hospitals. All drank the same brand of wine that had been bought in the area, police said. The local government has imposed an immediate ban on the sale of the beverage, which is in high demand over the Christmas holidays.
Much of the coconut wine on the market is manufactured by locals in backyard operations. The government had previously warned against selling unregistered alcoholic beverages. Del Rosario, a doctor, said one of the byproducts of coconut wine fermentation is methanol, which can cause blindness and death.
Some manufacturers keep the methanol in, because it means greater volume and more profit, he added. Last year, more than 10 people died from drinking coconut wine, samples of which were found by the government regulator to have a high methanol content.