At least 54 people have died since October in Costa Rica from the consumption of alcoholic beverages adulterated with methanol, the Health Ministry reported.
The agency in 2020 registered 92 cases of suspected methanol poisoning — of which 48 died, comprising 41 men and seven women — all since the month of October. The new year has already added seven suspected cases and six deaths.
The poisonings stem the consumption of a sugarcane distillate called guaro that has illegally been adulterated with methanol. Police and health authorities have mobilized in San José and nearby cities in the Greater Metropolitan Area where the cases have been detected.
The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) inspected 706 commercial establishments and seized more than 16,000 products on suspicion of being used in methanol poisoning, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Authorities advise against consuming the following liquor brands: Guaro Chonete, Guaro Cuerazo, Guaro Sacheto, Guaro Gran Apache, Aguardiente Estrella Roja, Guaro Montano, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka, Aguardiente Molotov or Guaro Fiesta Blanca.
Contact 9-1-1 if a person or establishment is selling counterfeit and/or methanol-tainted liquor. The Health Ministry says it has responded to nearly 150 alerts registered through 9-1-1 in recent weeks.
Methanol poisoning can cause severe vomiting, agitation, disorientation, blindness, seizures, or visual disturbances, and in many cases leads to death.
The U.S. Embassy has indicated that the spate of intoxications has not affected U.S. citizens who are visiting or residing in Costa Rica.
“The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is aware of the reports regarding recent deaths in Costa Rica associated with the consumption of tainted alcohol,” it said in a late December statement. “At this time, we are not aware of any U.S. citizen illness or death due to consuming adulterated alcohol in Costa Rica.”