Fifteen people have died since Friday in a village in Kampot province — 11 in another case of rice wine poisoning, and a further four others from “fainting” and other supposedly unrelated causes, local officials said.
At least 45 people have now died this year from rice wine poisonings, with 10 or more deaths in three other poisoning cases in Kampot, Kandal and Pursat provinces.
Asked about the spate of rice wine deaths this year, Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine would only say there were many deaths “because in the wine there was a lot of methanol.”
Svay Tong Khang Tbong Commune police chief Chhar Kong, in Kampong Trach district, said the deadly weekend started when a 64-year-old woman felt stomach pain while clearing grass in her field and later died “due to fainting.” Her husband told authorities she had not had any rice wine, Kong said.
Then the rice wine deaths started — as of Monday, 11 were dead and 17 still in hospital after drinking the wine, he said.
People drank the wine both at a funeral and two local shops, Kong said. People said they felt dizzy and tired and their faces became pale, according to the police chief.
“I told one of them … to go home since you have drunk the wine … [but] he said he drank it everyday it was OK,” Kong said. The man died during the night.
The funeral had about 1 liter of wine, with the deceased’s husband saying it was to clean his wife’s body. Meanwhile, the two shops had poured out all their stocks of wine by the time officials arrived, Kong said.
Authorities had been warning people not to drink rice wine after more than 10 people died from rice wine poisoning in a neighboring commune in May.
Last year, the Health Ministry disclosed the number of rice wine deaths from 2015 to 2018, recording between two to 33 a year for that period.
Commune chief Lon Sokha said that apart from the 11 rice wine deaths, four people had died due to “chronic diseases.”
After the first woman complaining of stomach pain in her field died, an elderly man died after hearing loudspeaker announcements about the other deaths in the village, Sokha said.
Kaoh Chhveang village chief Yith Leap said the elderly man may have died from “shock.”
The remaining two, meanwhile, died with similar symptoms to the rice wine poisonings after receiving coining treatments or massages, Leap said.
“We have seen a series of deaths and we are still not sure about the causes of the deaths yet. The technical team is investigating it.”
Authorities have said that rice wine poisonings are due to wine makers adding cheap methanol to their products to both cut costs and make them taste stronger. The Health Ministry has said that the safe limit of methanol is 0.1 percent, but has found products with as much as 11.9 percent methanol.