Iranian media reports nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic. It comes as fake remedies spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.
“The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around,” said Dr. Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo who studies methanol poisoning and fears Iran’s outbreak could be even worse than reported. “When they keep drinking this, there’s going to be more people poisoned.”
As of now, there is no known cure for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Scientists and doctors continue to study the virus and search for effective medicines and a vaccine.
But in messages forwarded and forwarded again, Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey, based on a tabloid story from early February.
The Islamic Republic 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.
“It is rumored that alcohol can wash and sanitize the digestive system,” said Dr. Javad Amini Saman in Iran’s western city of Kermanshah, where dozens have been hospitalized, “That is very wrong.”
Other Muslim nations that ban their citizens from drinking also see such methanol poisoning, although Iran appears to be the only one in the pandemic so far to turn toward it as a fake cure. In Buddhist Cambodia, police said they seized 4,200 liters (1,100 gallons) of methanol from a man who unwittingly planned to make toxic hand sanitizer because of the virus outbreak.