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Tainted Medicine Kills 27 in Panama

October 21, 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Thousands of health workers and students took to Panama’s streets to collect bottles of cough syrup and lotions possibly contaminated with an industrial chemical as the death toll from the tainted medicine rose to 27 Friday.

The deaths _ which began in July _ baffled authorities until last week, when U.S. health officials found traces of diethylene glycol, an industrial chemical related to antifreeze, in a red, sugarless cough syrup made by a government-run pharmaceutical factory.

Panama sought assistance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after victims suffered mysterious kidney failure, paralysis and sagging of the facial muscles and other symptoms.

Forty-three people remain hospitalized. The Health Ministry reported 27 deaths linked to the tainted medications.

Authorities detained five people who allegedly sold contaminated raw material to the government factory. The five suspects allegedly bought the material from a supplier.

Authorities have recovered about 3,750 bottles of the syrup _ the medication which appears to have be implicated in the largest number of cases _ but reports indicate that as much as 20,000 bottles may have originally been sold to the public, often poorer Panamanians who depend on government health services.

The government has ordered the cough syrup and cold remedies removed from store shelves. Thousands of health workers and university students combed neighborhoods Friday in Panama City and elsewhere to collect the medications and convince those who may have taken them to have themselves examined

``We have recruited people to make a sweep, going house-to-house even, in areas where we have information that people may have gotten prescriptions″ for the contaminated medicines, said the government’s health promotion director, Mayanin Rodriguez.

About 30 collection centers have been set up to receive the old medications and offer the public replacements of safe equivalent medications.

Most of those affected were patients over age 60 with a history of diabetes or high blood pressure. The victims experienced symptoms including nausea and diarrhea.

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