Poison cocktails led to woman's partial blindness

A young woman was left with permanent partial blindness after drinking methanol at a popular Indonesian bar.

The case has sparked a report in the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia and a Christchurch doctor is warning people to be careful about what they drink when travelling in Indonesia.

Dr Paul Gee from Christchurch Hospital's emergency department said a 19-year-old American backpacker was admitted to hospital 35 hours after a night drinking in the Asian tourist hotspot.

She had consumed about eight to 10 complimentary cocktails the night before she flew to Christchurch. 

''The symptoms can be vague at first. You would expect intoxication followed by a general feeling of unwellness but blurred vision, dark sight, anxiety or shortness of breath can also occur,'' Gee said.

The woman had been drinking cocktails containing a mixture of Arrack and fruit juice.

In the journal Gee and colleague Dr Elizabeth Martin expressed concern about the number of methanol poisoning cases among tourists in Indonesia in recent years.

''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 report said.

Methanol is used as a fuel, a solvent, windscreen de-icer and antifreeze. If consumed, it can cause blindness, coma and death.

Gee said methanol poisoning was rare in the developed world but was still commonly seen in developing countries as a result of home-brewed alcohol.

Arrack is a coconut flower, rice and sugarcane-based spirit common in Indonesia, which is produced commercially as well as illegally, Gee said.

Gee said people travelling to Indonesia should be cautious about the source of the alcohol they are drinking.

''Sometimes people buy drinks that are in bottles that look legitimate but people should be sticking to commercially produced brands.''

Jugs of alcohol and pre-made cocktails served to tourists in bars should be avoided, he said.

* Correction: This story originally incorrectly said the woman was from Christchurch. It also incorrectly stated that she went to hospital 72 hours after drinking the cocktail, rather than 35.

The Press