04 Aug 2012
Doctors are warning tourists to Southeast Asia against downing complimentary bar cocktails, which could contain enough methanol to blind them.
The warning comes after a 19-year-old New Zealand backpacker suffered permanent eye damage after drinking up to 10 of the cocktails just hours before she flew home from Indonesia.
Arrack, also spelled arak, is a coconut flower, rice and sugar cane-based spirit common in Indonesia.
Poorly made from illegal producers, it can sometimes contains methanol, which is used as a fuel, a solvent and antifreeze.
Just 10ml is enough to make a person blind and any more than 100ml is almost always fatal.
According to the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia, the 19-year-old developed sudden vision problems and rapid breathing two days after drinking the arrack.
"She sought help later when her vision began to fail. Although the woman survived, she has been left with permanent visual impairment," said Paul Gee and colleague Elizabeth Martin, from Christchurch Hospital's emergency department.
They said they were concerned about the number of methanol poisoning cases among tourists to Indonesia in recent years and wanted to alert people to the risk.
Last year Perth-based New Zealander Michael Denton, 29, died in Bali after drinking incorrectly distilled arrack containing methanol.
At least four foreigners were among the 25 people who died from methanol poisoning during a two-week period in Bali and Lombok in 2009.
Indonesian authorities say that following a crackdown on illegal importation of alcohol, a number of rogue producers set up small factories which produced the sometimes poisonous arrack.