Hundreds of Iranians have been killed by ingesting industrial alcohol over fears of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Iranian media reports.
A mistaken belief that methanol protects people from the new virus has killed nearly 300 people and sickened 1,000 others in the Islamic Republic, The Associated Press reported.
An Iranian doctor told the AP the numbers were probably closer to 480 and 2,850.
“Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting on two fronts here,” Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an adviser to Iran’s Health Ministry, said.
“We have to both cure the people with alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus.”
Drinking, selling or buying alcohol has been outlawed in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic government in 1979, Fox News reported.
However, people have reportedly been drinking bootlegged alcohol made from methanol as a remedy for coronavirus.
This remedy rumor came from forwarded messages on social media accounts falsely suggesting people had been cured of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, citing a tabloid story about a British school teacher who had done so, according to the AP.
This story combined with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to kill the virus led many to believe drinking high-proof alcohol would do the same inside their bodies.
The rumors led people to start drinking bootlegged alcohol containing methanol, which has no scent or taste in drinks.
Methanol can cause delayed organ and brain damage, chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and coma, according to the AP.
Hassanian told the news outlet that in some provinces, the number of people poisoned by the bootlegged alcohol has exceeded the number of people with COVID-19.
Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist, said that there will be more methanol poisoning victims to come.
“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,” Hovda said.
In the Middle East, Iran has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus.
As of Friday morning, there were 32,332 cases of COVID-19 in Iran, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
There have been 2,378 fatalities and 11,133 recoveries from the virus.
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