Two people died and some 44 more were hospitalised after consuming bad rice wine at a funeral ceremony in Kratie’s Sambor district on Saturday, according to local authorities.
According to Bun Chhoeun, Sambor district police chief, local health officials have tentatively blamed the presence of methanol, a non-potable alcohol sometimes found in low-quality spirits.
“We went down to see the scene and collected two bottles of rice wine,” which have been sent for testing at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, Chhoeun said.
“The villagers who are sick were sent for help at the district hospital, but the two villagers who were seriously [sick] were sent to provincial hospital,” though one has since been sent to the capital’s Calmette Hospital, he added.
According to Chhoeun, provincial and district health officials at the scene “suspected that the villagers died and fell ill due to rice wine because it contained high levels of methanol”, and those who died were already in poor health beforehand.
Authorities have not yet determined which store or home the wine was purchased from, and a committee with participation from the provincial governor will investigate after the funeral ends on Friday.
“We will question the funeral organiser after they complete their ceremony. We do not want to disturb them when they are sad,” he said.
Lor Thol, deputy director of Sambor health centre, said that 15 villagers still remain under medical watch.
“They had symptoms of vomiting, fatigue and dizziness, but all the patients sent to my health centre are better,” he said, adding that dehydration likely made matters worse.
“They drank a lot while the weather today is very hot, that’s why it caused them to die,” he said.
According the US Center for Disease Control, symptoms of methanol exposure include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and heart and respiratory failure.
Dr Yel Daravuth, WHO-Cambodia’s officer for alcohol, tobacco and mental health, said regulation of the alcohol industry, such as requiring licences for production and sale, would reduce the risk of tainted alcohol-related health consequences.
“We want to regulate all alcohol, homemade or commercially produced. We are pushing to have the law on alcohol control passed . . . The minister of health has brought it to the Council of Ministers for approval,” he said.
Additional reporting by Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon