Doctors use ethanol to counter methyl alcohol poisoning

Doctor explained that ethanol, found in alcoholic beverages like whiskey, administered in 1:1 ratio with water, inhibits methanol’s conversion into toxins.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: June 23, 2015 1:26 am

Doctors treating patients of methyl alcohol poisoning are reportedly using an unlikely antidote — diluted ethanol. The 100th fatality of the hooch tragedy, Vishwas Sutram Sinku, who passed away on Monday morning, was given this antidote to negate the effects of methanol poisoning.

A doctor explained that ethanol, found in alcoholic beverages like whiskey, administered in 1:1 ratio with water, inhibits methanol’s conversion into toxins and helps in flushing it out of the body either naturally or through dialysis.

Sinku (34) was one of the nearly 150 admitted to various hospitals in Mumbai after consuming spurious liquor on June 17. The death toll in the tragedy climbed from 13 on June 18 to 102 by June 22 afternoon.

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Methanol or methyl alcohol can cause impaired vision, high toxicity and metabolic acidosis, a condition in which the body produces excessive acid that cannot be flushed out by kidneys. Fomepizole and ethanol administered intravenously are antidotes for methanol poisoning in western countries, experts said, though high costs and poor availability eliminate these options in India.

Sinku succumbed to brain haemorrhage in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Sion Hospital.

“If patients had come to us within the first few hours of the symptoms, we would have been able to stabilise them,” said Dr Suleman Merchant, dean at Sion hospital.

Two patients, Dashrath Kale (32) and Sikandar Vishwakarma (48), are being administered ethanol treatment (1:1 ratio with water).
“It is a natural antidote for methanol poisoning,” said Dr Jagdish Gotur, consulting physician at civic-run Babasaheb Ambedkar hospital in Kandivali where 131 patients have been admitted so far. According to Dr R N Bharmal, dean at Nair Hospital, ethanol is administered through tubes.

Malwani resident Narangi Ragpaksa said that the local residents usually consume only homemade liquor, which costs Rs 10 per pouch. “Labourers, construction workers and maids living here have never tasted beer, whiskey or wine,” Ragpaksa says.

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