Australians planning to visit Indonesian or other Southeast Asian destinations should avoid exotic cocktail drinks, which a recent journal report from New Zealand had blamed for the deaths of numerous tourists in the past.
The brain and kidney of a Newcastle nurse, Jamie Johnston, was damaged after she drank a native Bali cocktail laced with methanol during her holiday trip to the Indonesian island.
The case report penned by Paul Gee and Elizabeth Martin and published on Friday by the College for Emergency Medicine in Christchurch, New Zealand specifically pointed to local Indonesian drink known as arrack.
The local cocktail is popular in Bali, favourite vacation spot for Aussies and Kiwis, and is usually offered as complimentary drinks to Western tourists by local bar owners.
According to Dr Gee and Dr Martin, arrack is a concoction of coconut flower, rice and spirits that were the by-products of sugarcane processing but the actual arrack drinks being served in Indonesian bars were thought to be laced with methanol, a toxic substance.
The normal use for methanol is for fuel purposes or to shake out sticky dents on surface, experts said.
The solvent is also useful in ridding car's windshield of ice but medical doctors warned that when humans consume the substance, the consequences could be grave or fatal.
Drinking methanol, even in small amounts, could lead to total blindness, comatose or even death, the journal report said.
Case in point is the 19-year-old backpacker who reportedly gulped 10 shots of arrack prior to her departure from Indonesia and 35 hours after her arrival to New Zealand, she complained of fatigue, anxiety and inability to breathe.
The unidentified victim, who Fairfax said was a U.S. national, also claimed that she was losing vision prior to her admission to Christchurch Hospital's ER department, where Dr Gee and Dr Martin work.
The teenage girl survived but she will be visually impaired for the rest of her life, the report's author said.
It was likely that the victim was given a drink that was illegally prepared, further raising the chances of her swallowing methanol with what looked like as innocent freebies from bars, the two offered.
Her plight underscored the dangers of such drinks, which were also known to tourists as 'jungle juice'.
"An almost identical case was reported in an Australian tourist to Indonesia in 1992. An incident where 25 died from methanol poisoning in Indonesia occurred in 2009, and in recent months an Australian nurse was poisoned by tainted arrack and another tourist died in similar circumstances," The NZ Herald quoted the journal report as saying on Friday.
Arrack can be considered as a creeping killer, the two doctors said, as symptoms of poisoning would only manifest some 50 hours following the consumption of drinks that were contaminated with methanol.
"Visual symptoms include blurred vision, spots, photophobia and partial to complete visual loss ... and most patients complain of anxiety, headache, nausea, vomiting and weakness," Dr Gee and Dr Martin explained on their report.
The report also reminded that arrack should not be confused with arak, another popular drink but of Middle Eastern origin, which is distinct for its anise flavouring.
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