Kallakurichi hooch tragedy: 13 victims, thought to be asleep, were brought in dead by their families

However, the sudden increase in patient inflow starting on June 19 (Wednesday) proved too much for the hospital to handle.
A file pic of Mass cremation of Kallakurichi hooch tragedy victims at Karunapuram, in Kallakurichi, Thursday.
A file pic of Mass cremation of Kallakurichi hooch tragedy victims at Karunapuram, in Kallakurichi, Thursday. (Photo | Sriram R, EPS)

CHENNAI: As the death toll in the hooch tragedy rose to 56 on Sunday, doctors at the Kallakurichi Government Medical College Hospital revealed that as many as 13 victims were brought dead to the hospital by their family members. “The families thought the deceased were sleeping after imbibing hooch and went to work. When they returned in the evening, they saw the news reports and rushed their loved ones to the hospital,” a senior doctor at the hospital recounted.

One among the 11 new medical college hospitals in the state, Kallakurichi GH had 120 victims under treatment by Saturday afternoon, of which five were in critical condition. Hospital staff initially (on Tuesday) managed to handle the situation owing to their experience in treating victims of the 2023 Marakkanam hooch tragedy, doctors said.

However, the sudden increase in patient inflow starting on June 19 (Wednesday) proved too much for the hospital to handle. The director of medical education diverted specialty doctors from Salem, Tiruvannamalai, Villupuram and Tiruchy. Paramedics also pitched in when there weren’t enough doctors, with Covid-19 time ventilators and beds coming in handy. Cases requiring super speciality care were referred to JIPMER, Puducherry, and Salem GH.

“Patients who consumed a single packet of the hooch were largely out of danger, but those who had two to three had to be put under critical care. Treatment after a delay of more than 18 hours will not be effective in these cases,” a doctor said.

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Fatal methanol

In the wake of the deaths, doctors and experts reiterate their warning that methanol should not be consumed in any form as it is lethal. The chemical compound is often used to brew hooch due to its cheap cost and the high level of intoxication it provides.

Dr Surendran, a senior gastroenterologist, told TNIE that methanol is metabolised by the body into formic acid, which is toxic and responsible for metabolic acidosis — the buildup of acid in the bloodstream that leads to end-organ damage.

The mainstay of treatment in such cases is fomepizole, a medication used to treat methanol and ethylene glycol poisoning, to be administered after stabilising the patient. Hemodialysis may be used when there is end-organ damage or a high degree of acidosis. If fomepizole is not available, ethanol may be used, Dr Surendran said.

Methanol is present in small amounts in fruits, vegetables and beverages. 0.1ml is considered to be the safety threshold for the human body. Consuming over 10ml of methanol will lead to death, said Dr R Satheeshkumar, Designated Food Safety Officer, Chennai.

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