In a desperate search for a curative, many families have turned to fake remedies spread across social media – including a powerful form of bootleg alcohol banned in the Islamic Republic.
Iranian health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that 525 people have died in hospital from swallowing toxic methanol alcohol since 20 February, state TV reported on Monday.
An adviser to the ministry, Hossein Hassanian, told the Associated Press another 200 or so alcohol poisoning victims died outside of hospital.
Alcohol poisoning has skyrocketed in Iran amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government report released earlier in April.
The national coroner’s authority said that alcohol poisoning killed 728 Iranians between 20 February and 7 April. Last year there were only 66 deaths from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.
The health ministry spokesman said that a total of 5,011 people across Iran had been poisoned from methanol alcohol since mid-February.
Mr Jahanpour added that 90 people have lost their eye sight or are suffering eye damage from the alcohol poisoning. Dr Hassanian also said the final tally of people who lost their eye sight could be much higher.
“We are fighting on two fronts here,” the ministry adviser said last month. “We have to both cure the people with alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus.”
Iran is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus pandemic rose by 71 in the past 24 hours to 5,877, health ministry spokesman said on state TV on Tuesday.
The consumption of alcohol is generally prohibited in Iran. However, minority Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in private. Iran also currently some 40 alcohol factories that have been allocated permits for pharmaceutical and sanitising items.
The Iranian government mandates that manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial colour to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind of alcohol that can be used in cleaning wounds.
Some bootleggers in Iran use methanol, adding a splash of bleach to mask the added colour before selling it as drinkable. Methanol, which cannot be smelled in drinks, causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.
Public health authorities around the world have struggled to combat a variety of false and dangerous information about the coronavirus and potential “cures” spread online since the beginning of the outbreak.
Arguably some leaders have contributed to the misinformation. US president Donald Trump speculated on whether patients could be injected with disinfectant, while Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko erroneously advised that drinking vodka would help “poison” the disease.
Additional reporting by agencies
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