Fatal Methanol Poisoning Caused by Drinking Adulterated Locally Distilled Alcohol: Wakiso District, Uganda, June 2017
Hindawi -- Journal of Environmental and Public Health
DOI 10.1155/2020/5816162
  1. Birungi Doreen
  2. Patricia Eyu
  3. Denis Okethwangu
  4. Claire Biribawa
  5. Susan Kizito
  6. Miriam Nakanwagi
  7. Joyce Nguna
  8. Innocent H. Nkonwa
  9. Denis N. Opio
  10. Freda L. Aceng
  11. Phoebe H. Alitubeera
  12. Daniel Kadobera
  13. Benon Kwesiga
  14. Lilian Bulage
  15. Alex R. Ario
  16. Bao-Ping Zhu


Methanol, an industrial solvent, can cause illness and death if ingested. In June 2017, the Uganda Ministry of Health was notified of a cluster of deaths which occurred after drinking alcohol. We investigated to determine the cause of outbreak, identify risk factors, and recommend evidence-based control measures.


We defined a probable case as acute loss of eyesight and ≥1 of the following symptoms: profuse sweating, vomiting, dizziness, or loss of consciousness in a resident of either Nabweru or Nangabo Subcounty from 1 to 30 June 2017. In a case-control study, we compared exposures of case-patients and controls selected among asymptomatic neighbors who drank alcohol and matched by age and sex. We collected alcohol samples from implicated bars and wholesaler X for testing.


We identified 15 cases; 12 (80%) died. Among case-patients, 12 (80%) were men; the median age was 43 (range: 23–66) years. Thirteen (87%) of 15 case-patients and 15 (25%) of 60 controls last drank a locally distilled alcohol at one of the three bars supplied by wholesaler X (ORM-H = 15; 95% CI: 2.3–106). We found that alcohol sellers sometimes added methanol to drinking alcohol to increase their profit margin. Among the 10 alcohol samples from wholesaler X, the mean methanol content (1200 mg/L, range: 77–2711 mg/L) was 24 times higher than the safe level.


This outbreak was caused by drinking a locally distilled alcohol adulterated with methanol from wholesaler X. We recommended enforcing existing laws governing alcohol manufacture and sale. We recommended timely intravenous administration of ethanol to methanol poisoning victims.