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Costa Rica blames tainted alcohol in mysterious deaths

Costa Rican officials have confiscated about 30,000 bottles of alcohol it claims were tainted, blaming them for the deaths of 19 people since the beginning of June, according to USA Today.

The government says samples from the bottles, manufactured by brands including Guaro Montano, Guaro Gran Apache, Aguardiente Estrella, Aguardiente Barón Rojo, Aguardiente Timbuka and Molotov Aguardiente, tested positive for methanol adulteration.

The seizure follows the deaths of 14 men and five women, aged 32 to 72, in several Costa Rican cities since June, according to USA Today. Seven of the deaths occurred in San Jose province, which includes the capital city of the same name, according to CBS News, with health officials saying all information on the fatalities is preliminary.

Methanol poisoning can lead to symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, headaches, drowsiness and lack of muscle coordination, according to USA Today. Symptoms typically do not appear until long after consumption.

Methanol poisoning outbreaks are often tied to counterfeit or bootleg alcohol, and the chemical is also found in antifreeze and solvents. Similar outbreaks have occurred in India, Turkey, Norway and the Czech Republic.

People or companies selling the affected bottles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties, according to Costa Rica's Ministry of Health.

Because the brands in question are registered with the Ministry of Health, "it is suspected that in the national market, counterfeit products of these brands circulate," the Ministry added in a statement.

The alert follows reports in June that the FBI had joined an investigation into whether seven tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic were due to poisoned or otherwise tainted alcohol. At least three of the deaths occurred after the tourist had a drink from the minibar in their hotel rooms. 

"Adulterated alcohol is usually methanol added to alcohol or just plain methanol, which is very, very toxic," Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, told the New York Post after the Dominican cases. "It looks to me, from what I've heard and read, is that something was added to the drinks or bottles in those little refrigerators."

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