The Ministry of Health’s communicable disease control department has produced a short video in advance of next month’s Khmer New Year warning revellers of the dangers of consuming rice wine, which has been linked to multiple deaths.
In the video posted to the department’s Facebook page, two villagers are on a bed and discussing the death of their neighbour.
“Do you know the reason why Mr Sorn died,” a man asks a lady, with the cause being concluded as rice wine poisoning.
During the discussion, a young man arrives and says to them that the victim drank rice wine mixed with methanol, which had been added by the producer of the wine to make it stronger.
“They think that methanol is a strong liquid or alcohol yeast for mixing with water to produce the wine or sometimes they use methanol mixed with rice wine to make it strong,” the young man says, noting that methanol is really dangerous and can lead to death.
“Please, do not drink methanol-laced wine or mix it with water to make rice wine stronger because it can affect your health and life,” the actors say.
Methanol is a liquid chemical that is colourless, volatile, flammable, and poisonous. Methanol is made from the destructive distillation of wood and is chiefly synthesized from carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Its principal uses are in organic synthesis, as a fuel, solvent, and antifreeze.
From 2015 to 2017, there were 389 cases of rice wine poisoning which caused 50 deaths in Mondulkiri, Tbong Khmum, Kratie and Kampong Chhnang provinces, according to the Health Ministry.
“Rice wine is still the main reason causing people to get sick and die,” the communicable disease control department said in a statement that accompanied the video.
Ly Sovann, the department’s director, said rice wine that has been mixed with methanol should not be consumed.
“Rice wine should be consumed in moderation or completely avoided if possible,” he said. “Some rice wines are mixed with methanol to make it stronger, but it can affect people’s health, causing illness or even death. People who buy rice wine really need to check it thoroughly.”
Rice wine consumption can affect the liver, kidneys and brain, and in the case of consuming rice wine mixed with methanol, it may cause poisoning, including symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, difficulty breathing, exhaustion and unconsciousness, according to Mr Sovann.
Last month, a 59-year-old man died and another 50-year-old fell sick after they drank herbal wine in Kamport province’s Teuk Chhou district.
Police said the victims bought the rice wine and mixed it with many kinds of herbal supplements for about an hour prior to drinking it.
Later, the provincial court charged the herbal seller with unintentional murder.