A syndemic of COVID-19 and methanol poisoning in Iran: Time for Iran to consider alcohol use as a public health challenge?
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Methanol poisoning has been a significant public health challenge for several decades in Iran. Even though alcohol use is highly criminalized, people consume illicit alcohol, which tends to be predominantly homemade and often contains methanol. Consequently, thousands of individual poisonings and hundreds of deaths annually are attributable to methanol poisoning. From February 19, 2020 through April 27, 2020, the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic rapidly expanded in Iran, and has been associated with 90,481 confirmed cases and 5710 confirmed deaths. Secondary to misinformation about the potential for alcohol to neutralize SARS-CoV-2, there has also been a significant escalation in methanol-related morbidity and mortality, with over 5000 people poisoned and over 500 confirmed deaths for the same period from February through April 2020. In some provinces, the case-fatality rate of methanol poisoning was higher than that from COVID-19. The high morbidity and mortality associated with methanol poisoning preceding and exacerbated by COVID-19 highlight the potential population level health impacts of the implementation of evidence-based education and harm reduction strategies focused on alcohol use across Iran.