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Top tips to avaoid methanol poisoning

It can ruin holidays, and end lives - but being armed with a few simple tips can help travellers minimise the risk of methanol poisoning.


Beware: If the cocktails seem ridiculously cheap, you’re probably better to steer clear.
Beware: If the cocktails seem ridiculously cheap, you’re probably better to steer clear. Source: ThinkStock

Top tips to avoid methanol poisoning

But the risk of methanol poisoning isn’t confined to Bali, a travel expert has warned.

It’s also common in other parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, travel safety specialist Phil Sylvester from Travel Insurance Direct says.

But in Bali, arak - or Balinese moonshine - is the most well known source of methanol poisoning.

Just a small amount of methanol could send you blind, and a decent shot could kill you, Mr Sylvester says. In 2009, 25 people were killed by one single batch.

The symptoms of methanol poisoning can start immediately, with headaches, dizziness, amnesia and drowsiness. The next symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, blurred vision, hallucinations, seeing skin over your eyes, snowstorms, dancing spots and flashes of light.

When it comes to avoiding the risk the obvious answer is to steer clear of drinking altogether, but Mr Sylvester admits that’s not practical advice.

“We recognise that people are on holidays and are going to have a few drinks. We’re not wowsers about that,” he said.

He recommends avoiding drinks labelled as arak, but being aware of other drinks that may be laced with the cheaper spirit.

“A bar owner concerned only about profit will lace the drinks with the cheaper stuff,” he says.

“It’s hard to say don’t drink crazy cocktails in Bali, but good rule of thumb is if the drinks seem ludicrously cheap, even for Bali, it’s not a good idea.”

Mr Sylvester warns that from a travel insurance perspective, intentionally drinking to excess can leave you in the lurch when it comes to claiming.

“When something goes wrong when you’re on holidays - if it’s as a direct result of being drunk, you’re probably not going to be covered,” he said.

“But methanol poisoning can affect you with just one drink - so it’s very likely you would be covered.”


The new observational-documentary series What Really Happens In Bali gives a no-holds-barred look at what really goes down in Australia's favourite tourist destination. The series is narrated by Corinne Grant. Courtesy Channel Seven.
Phil Sylvester’s top tips to avoid methanol poisoning:

1. Don’t drink arak. Even the official stuff can be adulterated.

2. Don’t drink spirits (including cocktails). While this is hard, it is the only way to be certain no local substitutes have been used. If you are going to drink spirits buy the whole bottle of a brand you know, make sure it’s sealed and open it yourself to share with friends. Or, drink beer!

3. If you start to feeling any symptoms get yourself to hospital as soon as possible.

4. Know and understand the signs of methanol poisoning for yourself and any friends:

- Difficulty breathing

- Blurred vision

- Agitation

- Dizziness

- Stomach pain

5. Be aware of methanol drink spiking across the globe. It is not unique to Bali, but also pretty common in Eastern Europe.

Recent incidents involving Australian tourists in Bali:

• Tess Mettam, from Perth, became ill and went blind for two days after drinking two cocktails at a Kuta Bar in December.

• Perth teenager Liam Davies, 19, died after drinking a methanol-laced cocktail on the Island of Lombok on New Year’s Day, 2013.

• Two 18-year-old Australians, a male and a female, were blinded after drinking cocktails during separate schoolies trips to Bali in November and December 2012.



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