TEHRAN, Iran >> Standing still on the body of an intubated 5-year-old boy with nothing but a plastic diaper, an Iranian healthcare worker in a hazmat suit and mask asks the public for one thing: Stop drinking alcohol industrial on. fears about the new coronavirus.
The boy, now blind after his parents gave him toxic methanol in the mistaken belief he is protected against the virus, is just one of hundreds of victims of an epidemic inside the now-fascinating Iran pandemic.
Iranian media reports that nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sick even so far by drinking methanol across the Islamic Republic, where alcohol is banned and where people rely on smugglers. It comes as fake remedies spread via social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after easing the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.
“The virus is spreading and people are just dying, and I think they’re even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around,” said Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicist in Oslo who studies Iran’s methanol poisoning and fears. the. outbreaks could be even worse than reported. “When they continue to drink, more people poison.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and clear cough in two to three weeks. For some people, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, it can lead to more serious illnesses, including pneumonia, or death.
The pandemic has swept across the world, overwhelming hospitals, crippling economies and forcing governments to restrict the movements of billions of people. Particularly hard hit was Iran, home to 80 million people.
As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines with a vaccine.
But in messages sent and sent again, Iran’s social media accounts of Farsi falsely suggest a British school teacher and others heal themselves from the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February. Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based disinfectants but, some mistakenly believe drinking high alcohol proof would kill the virus in their bodies.
The Islamic Republic reports more than 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths from the virus, the largest number in any country in the Middle East. International experts fear that Iran may register its case, because officials for days have played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.
That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and online rumors, saw dozens sick by drinking methanol-containing alcohol in southwestern Iran in Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz. Video posted by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck to their arms, laying on beds otherwise needed for the fight against the coronavirus, including the 5-year-old boy’s intubation. Iranian media have also reported cases in Karaj and Yazd.
In Iran, the government requires that manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial color to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the type of alcohol that can be used to clean wounds. Ethanol is also the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, though its production is illegal in Iran.
Some smugglers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the color added before selling it as potable. Sometimes it mixes with consumable alcohol to stretch supply, other times it comes as methanol, falsely advertised as drinkable, Hovda said. Methanol also can be contaminated by traditionally fermented alcohol.
Methanol cannot smell or taste in drinks. It causes delays in organs and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.
“It is rumored that alcohol can wash and disinfect the digestive system,” Dr Javad Amini Saman said in the western city of Iran in Kermanshah, where dozens were hospitalized, “This is very wrong.”
Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll on Iran. An academic study found methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.
Muslim nations banning citizens from drinking also see these as taking methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a false cure. In Buddhist Cambodia, police said they seized 4,200 liters (1,100 gallons) of methanol from a man who unintentionally made toxic but disinfectant due to the virus outbreak.
Muslim drink in Iran can be punished with cash fines and 80 lashes. However, minority Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians can drink alcoholic beverages privately.
While retail police often announce alcohol, the trade in nontoxic alcohol also continues. Locally made Iranian Arak from fermented raisins, known as Aragh Sagi, sells for $ 10 for a 1.5-liter bottle. Imported vodka sells for $ 40 a bottle.
“Every year during Nowruz, or the Persian New Year holiday that starts March 21, my clients double,” said Rafik, an Iranian-Armenian who makes vodka in the basement of his home Tehran. He spoke on condition that only his first name be used for fear of arrest. “This year, because of coral, it jumped up to four – or five-fold.”
Farhad, a self-described drinker who lives in central Tehran, said alcohol remains easy to find for people looking for it.
“Even you can get it offered when walking down the street,” he said.
Since 1979, 40 factories in Iran’s alcohol have seen their production change in need of pharmaceuticals and disinfectants. Others remained idle, such as abandoning the Shams alcohol factory east of Tehran.
But now, at a time when even some mosques in Iran hand out high-proof alcohol as a disinfectant, officials plan to start working again at Shams to produce 22,000 liters of 99% alcohol a day.