Iranian media have reported that about 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 under treatment so far across the country due to consumption of methanol, a false cure spread across the country.
Dr Hossein Hassanian who assists the country’s Health Ministry told The Associated Press that the crisis was even bigger, stressing that the death toll had reached 480 with 2,850 people critically ill.
“Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic. But we are fighting two problems here. We have to both cure the people with alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus,” he explained.
The poisoning emanated from the fake cure spread across social media in Iran, where people remained deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it devastated the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world, overwhelming hospitals, crippling economies and forcing governments to restrict movements of billions of people.
As of now, there is no known cure for Coronavirus. But in messages forwarded and reforwarded, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely indicated that a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey.
Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, some erroneously believed that drinking alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.
Iran has reported over 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East.
International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials for days played down the virus ahead of a parliamentary election.
That fear of the virus, coupled with poor education and internet rumours, saw dozens sickened by drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz.
In Iran, the government demands 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.
Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It destroys organs and damages brain. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.
“Unfortunately in some provinces, including Khuzestan and Fars, deaths from drinking methanol have exceeded the number of deaths from the new coronavirus,” the doctor added.
Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in Iran. One academic study found out that methanol poisoning sickened 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.