Seven people died and another 15 became ill after drinking tainted rice wine in Prey Veng province’s Sithor Kandal district over the past two weeks, authorities said yesterday.
The string of deaths began Oct 23 when a 41-year-old man died after drinking wine at a neighbor’s shop, while many others became ill and six died throughout the last week after drinking wine at the man’s funeral, Yun Sokneth, district police chief said yesterday. One person died on Tuesday, four died on Thursday and a one died yesterday in Pnov I commune, he said.
“I can talk about the people dying but I cannot talk about the reason because it is not clear,” Mr Sokneth said. “The doctors are researching.”
He added that police have banned people from drinking rice wine at funerals but the warning is unnecessary.
“We told them not to drink rice wine but they were already scared when they saw many people dying,” he said.
Dr Nu Sophal, deputy bureau chief of the technical office at the provincial health department, said yesterday that officials went to the village to collect medical samples and sent them to the Ministry of Health but there were no results yet.
“We took feces and blood for testing as well as wine because we suspect there is methanol in there and we want to know how much,” Dr Sophal said.
Methanol is an alcohol that is produced naturally by a number of bacteria but it is toxic to humans.
Dr Sophal said the cases in Prey Veng are very similar to the 15 deaths that occurred earlier this month in Kompong Cham province’s O’Reang-ou district.
Kim Sourphirum, director of the Kompong Cham department of health, said results from sample testing revealed high levels of methanol in the wine that the victims ingested but he didn’t have more details, as he had not received the official report from the Health Ministry yet.
“We cannot stop them from drinking rice wine but we can educate them to be careful when they do drink,” he said.