Mozambique funeral beer poisoning
Location within Mozambique of Chitima, site of the funeral where contaminated pombe was served
|Date||9 January 2015|
|Location||Tete Province, Mozambique|
|Cause||Contaminated beer, Burkholderia gladioli, bongkrekic acid, toxoflavin.|
|First reporter||Radio Mozambique|
|Non-fatal injuries||More than 230 |
In January 2015, 75 people died and 230 were made ill after drinking contaminated beer at a funeral in Mozambique. All of the people affected had consumed the local beer, pombe on 9 January, which had been contaminated with the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli which produced the toxic compound bongkrekic acid.
Early speculation on the source of the illness by Mozambique officials blamed crocodile bile. A Forbes article opposed this hypothesis and instead pointed to the toxic flowering plant foxglove as the likely source of the poison. Only in November 2015 was it determined that the deaths and illnesses were a result of bacterial contamination of the beer.
Radio Mozambique reported that 69 people from the villages of Chitima and Songo, both in Tete Province, had died. 196 were hospitalized after a funeral on 9 January, in the western part of the country. Those affected had consumed home-made pombe beer, a traditional fermented beverage in Mozambique, made of sorghum, bran, corn, sugar, with Schizosaccharomyces pombe yeast (which is not the same yeast used in European-style brewing).
Among the first reported dead on the following day were the drink stand owner, two of her relatives and four neighbors. The district director of Health, Women and Social Action in Cahora Bassa region, Paula Bernardo, said that area hospitals were flooded with people suffering from cramps and diarrhea and that more people had died. As of 12 January, 169 people remained hospitalized, and that number dropped to 35 on the 13th. The president of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, announced three days of national mourning.
Early reports suggested the beer had been poisoned with "crocodile bile", known and sold by local practitioners as "nduru". An alternate early theory, presented in Forbes magazine online, suggested the active ingredient in such poisonings was perhaps a cardiac glycoside, such as digitalis. Digitalis purpurea, the variety of foxglove flower that is the normal source of digitalis, has become common in the area after introduction by European settlers; the foxglove variety that is native to Africa, Ceratotheca triloba, resembles the poisonous plant but does not contain digitalis.
In the Forbes article, David Kroll surmises that while crocodile bile is reputed by local villagers to be highly toxic, this is almost certainly false. Crocodile bile resembles mammalian bile which is universally found in the digestive tract of all higher animals. Mice experimentally fed extracts of the bile did not die, and local crocodile farms dried and sold the bile for export to the Far East for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Kroll cites Norman Z. Nyazema, a researcher into traditional practices and culture of Africa, who suggested that organophosphate pesticides may instead be to blame, though the cause of the deaths would remain mysterious at least until forensic testing was complete.
Samples of the beer, blood, and suspicious objects found within the drum were sent for analysis to the National Laboratory. The investigation into the cause of the poisoning eventually turned up the presence of the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli and two toxins produced by it, bongkrekic acid and toxoflavin, in both the beer and the corn flour that was used to help brew it, and concluded that these were responsible for the deaths and illnesses. The investigative team determined that flood-damaged corn flour that had begun to rot had been offered to the brewer in the mistaken belief that, while unfit for use as food, it was still suitable for use in brewing.
- "Where is Chitima in Tete, Mozambique Located?". GoMapper. n.d. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
- Gudo, Eduardo Samo; Cook, Kyla; Kasper, Amelia M; Vergara, Alfredo; Salomão, Cristolde; Oliveira, Fernanda; Ismael, Hamida; Saeze, Cristovão; Mosse, Carla; Fernandes, Quinhas; Viegas, Sofia Omar; Baltazar, Cynthia S; Doyle, Timothy J; Yard, Ellen; Steck, Alaina; Serret, Mayda; Falconer, Travis M; Kern, Sara E; Brzezinski, Jennifer L; Turner, James A; Boyd, Brian L; Jani, Ilesh V (2018). "Description of a Mass Poisoning in a Rural District in Mozambique: The First Documented Bongkrekic Acid Poisoning in Africa" (PDF). Clinical Infectious Diseases. 66 (9): 1400–1406. doi:10.1093/cid/cix1005. PMID 29155976.
- "'Crocodile poison' beer kills nearly 70 at funeral in Mozambique". rt.com. Reuters. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- "At least 69 die after drinking contaminated beer at Mozambique funeral". The Guardian. Associated Press. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- Camillo, Emmanuel (12 January 2015). "At Least 52 Dead After Drinking Poisoned Beer In Mozambique". The Huffington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- "Mozambique: Mass Poisoning Caused By Bacterial Contamination". allafrica.com. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
- Kroll, David (12 January 2015). "Did Crocodile Bile In Beer Really Kill 75 People In Mozambique?". Forbes. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
- Death Toll Rises to 72 From Contaminated Beer in Mozambique, MAPUTO, Mozambique, Jan 13, 2015, By EMMANUEL CAMILLO Associated Press
- "Bad Beer Kills At Least 69 People, Hospitalizes 169 in Mozambique". NBC News. Reuters. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- Nyazema, N. Z. (June 1984). "Crocodile bile, a poison: myth or reality?". Central African Journal of Medicine. 30 (6): 102–103. ISSN 0008-9176. PMID 6478501.
- Nyazema, N. Z. (June 1985). "Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) bile acids and arrow poisons". Central African Journal of Medicine. 31 (6): 114–116. ISSN 0008-9176. PMID 4042148.
- Abbas (July 2, 2012). "South African Foxglove - A False Foxglove: Health Benefits and Potential Uses of the South African Foxglove".