Sick coronavirus rumour claiming methanol cures disease kills hundreds in Iran

Approximately 300 people have been killed in Iran by toxic methanol after a false rumour claimed it could cure the coronavirus.

Stories about fake remedies for the disease have spread across social media, where citizens remain suspicious of the government after they downplayed the crisis.

In the Islamic Republic, alcohol is banned and drinkers rely on bootleggers.

Iranian social media accounts in Farsi falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whisky and honey, based on a story from early in February.

Mixed with messages about the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, some people wrongly believed drinking high-proof alcohol would kill the virus in their bodies.

Videos aired by Iranian media showed patients with IVs stuck in their arms in the south-western Khuzestan province and its southern city of Shiraz.

Iranian media also reported cases in the cities of Karaj and Yazd.

Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks, and causes delayed organ and brain damage.

Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation and blindness, with some victims going into comas.

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Even before the outbreak, methanol poisoning had taken a toll in the country.

One academic study found methanol poisoning affected 768 people in Iran between September and October 2018 alone, killing 76.

The Islamic Republic has reported around 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East.

Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist in Oslo who studies methanol poisoning, fears Iran's outbreak could be even worse than reported.

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He said: “The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around.

"When they keep drinking this, there's going to be more people poisoned."

International experts also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases, as officials played down the impact of the virus for days ahead of a parliamentary election.

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