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Fifteen fishermen die of alcohol poisoning in Indonesia

Fifteen fishermen died of suspected alcohol poisoning and more than 90 others were sickened in eastern Indonesia, hospital and port officials said Tuesday.

All but one of those killed were from Thailand, said Kasim, who works in the emergency room at the public hospital in Merauke, a coastal town in Papua province.

Port officials said police were still investigating the cause of the illnesses and deaths.

But Kasim, who goes by only one name, said the victims were believed to have been drinking Sunday night at the port, where many Thai fishing boats were anchored. The mostly likely cause was tainted alcohol, he said.

Alcohol, specifically ethanol, is a potent central nervous system depressant, with a range of side effects. The amount and circumstances of consumption play a large part in determining the extent of intoxication; for example, consuming alcohol after a heavy meal is less likely to produce visible signs of intoxication than consumption on an empty stomach. Hydration also plays a role, especially in determining the extent of hangovers. The concentration of alcohol in blood is usually measured in terms of the blood alcohol content.

Alcohol has a biphasic effect on the body, which is to say that its effects change over time. Initially, alcohol generally produces feelings of relaxation and cheerfulness, but further consumption can lead to blurred vision and coordination problems. Cell membranes are highly permeable to alcohol, so once alcohol is in the bloodstream it can diffuse into nearly every biological tissue of the body. After excessive drinking, unconsciousness can occur and extreme levels of consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning and death (a concentration in the blood stream of 0.55% will kill half of those affected). Death can also occur through asphyxiation by vomit. An appropriate first aid response to an unconscious, drunken person is to place them in the recovery position.

Extreme overdoses can lead to alcohol poisoning and death due to respiratory depression.

A rare complication of acute alcohol ingestion is Wernicke encephalopathy, a disorder of thiamine metabolism. If not treated with thiamine, Wernicke encephalopathy can progress to Korsakoff psychosis, which is irreversible.

Chronic alcohol ingestion over many years can produce atrophy of the vermis, which is the part of the cerebellum responsible for coordinating gait; vermian atrophy produces the classic gait findings of alcohol intoxication even when its victim is not inebriated.

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