Two Dead, Dozens Sick From Poisoned Wine

Two people have died and dozens more remain hospitalized after drinking tainted rice wine during a funeral in Kratie province’s Sambor district on Thursday and Friday, a local official said on Monday.

District police chief Bun Chhoeurn said 45-year-old Phen Phat died at the provincial referral hospital on Saturday, while 30-year-old Chhim Chorn died at his home on Sunday. A third man who was near death was transferred to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital on Monday and is still alive, he added.

Mr. Chhoeurn said dozens of villagers in Sambor commune drank the bad rice wine during a two-day funeral ceremony last week and started to feel the effects over the next two days.

“Most of them became ill; they were vomiting, getting dizzy and becoming weaker and weaker,” he said. “At first, no one realized that their illness was from poisoned wine, but after the death of the first victim, people started becoming concerned about drinking the wine.”

The police chief said that about 40 people, including two women, were still being treated at the provincial referral hospital and commune health center as of on Monday, as officials sought to identify the source of the deadly alcohol.

“The police and health department officials concluded that the victims died and became ill because the rice wine they drank had a high level of methanol,” Mr. Chhoeurn said.

“We are having a hard time finding the source of the wine because the villagers said they bought it from many places, and sellers said they bought it from various places,” he said.

“The health officials are testing the wine and police are working hard to find the source of the wine.”

Methanol is often added to alcohol as a cheaper alternative to traditional ingredients. Mass poisoning caused by the chemical is common enough in the developing world—where the homemade brew is popular and access to chemicals largely unregulated—that epidemiologists refer to it as a “methanol outbreak.”

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