A TEENAGE girl has been blinded after drinking a tainted cocktail while on a schoolies trip to Bali.
The 18-year-old is believed to be the worst affected of a number of people who have fallen seriously ill after drinking cocktails spiked with methanol. An 18-year-old boy was also temporarily blinded during a schoolies trip to Bali last month. The girl, from Sydney's northern suburbs, went to the emergency department of Royal North Shore Hospital after returning from overseas last week. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed girl had been admitted, saying: "There was a female patient that apparently had received treatment in Bali and had then presented to Royal North Shore." The hospital would not say what symptoms the teenager had displayed but The Sunday Telegraph can confirm she has been discharged and is continuing to recover at home.
The effects of methanol poisoning can range from vomiting, headaches and gastric pain, to comas, liver failure and, in extreme cases, death. Blindness is also common - it can last a few hours or lead to permanent damage. The mother of the other teenager, from regional NSW, told yesterday how he almost had a fatal experience after drinking a methanol-laced cocktail. Jan Bowler said: "The Red Frogs team found him lying in the garden of his motel so they took him to his room because he was complaining he had pins and needles in his face and that his eyesight was being affected. "He said his eyes were hurting so much he put a cold towel over his face. By the time he got to hospital, he couldn't see a thing, so they gave him some injections to counteract the methanol."
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said several other cases had been reported by travellers. "There have been other local reports of drink spiking cases this year," he said. "But not every case is brought to the attention of our consular staff. Spiked drinks might contain drugs, or they might contain poisons like methanol. Methanol is extremely toxic and poisoning can cause serious injury and blindness. "We're aware of one young Australian hospitalised in Indonesia after drinking what may have been methanol. I wish her all the best in her recovery." Methanol is a toxic chemical that is sometimes added to cheap drinks to make them more alcoholic.
In many cases poisoning has occurred when arrack - a local drink of coconut flower, rice and sugarcane spirit mixed with fruit juice - has methanol added. Volunteer group Red Frogs headed to Bali for the first time this year after being briefed by agencies and hospitals. Red Frogs Bali co-ordinator Paul Mergard said: "We treated and hospitalised around five schoolies for methanol poisoning and out of them there was one we had great concern for. "I would suspect that the real number is much higher," he said. "We had some we sent to hospital who were quite sick but we probably didn't see the worst of what was happening because we took them to hospital where they were treated."
Mr Mergard is calling for more awareness regarding the tainted drinks, saying: "The scary thing is these kids don't know what they are drinking. It is mixed through cocktails." Despite being aware of numerous cases of methanol poisoning overseas, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided only general warnings. Its website says "Foreigners have died or become seriously ill after consuming brand name alcohol or local spirits adulterated with harmful substances".