SPECULATION continues to be rife island-wide today as to why several persons from one community have died and many others are hospitalized or being examined, after drinking an apparent deadly substance. But the Royal St. Lucia Police Force says it is too early to determine the cause of death of four persons from Coolie Town, Marigot over the weekend, as investigations are still in the preliminary stages.
The deaths, still shrouded in mystery, have caused the police to team-up with the Ministry of Health, both sides working to determine causes of death and to ease speculation that the three males and one female may have consumed a poisonous substance they may have mistaken to be alcohol.
Now, the Ministry is advising anyone with information relating to the deaths to come forward and share what they may know, to prevent others from being exposed to whatever the deceased were exposed to.
Rumours have it that a substance believed to be alcohol was stolen and later drank by persons in Coolie Town. However, the police and health authorities have not yet substantiated such claims.
Chief medical Officer Merlene Fredericks yesterday confirmed that the Ministry of Health was investigating four cases of unusual deaths from the Coolie Town area.
“All are adults ranging in ages from 32 to 55 years-old, one a female, three are males,” Fredericks said of the deaths.
She said the history her team has received suggests persons ingested a substance, but it was not clear what that substance was.
“Hence the reason why we have a health team on the ground in Coolie Town comprising of doctors, environmental health officers and nurses — and they are working together with the police from the area to actually go into the communities and have a thorough investigation, asking questions and trying to find out exactly what is going on,” Fredericks said.
She added, “We have heard the rumours that there may have been an alcohol-type substance which may have been retreated in some manner, but at this point in time we cannot say, definitely, what is causing the situation. But the clinical signs do seem to suggest that it may have been a compound, which may have been ingested, which probably looked and smelled like alcohol and which probably may have been ingested on its own, or possibly mixed with alcohol.”
The general public is being asked to be wary of what they consume, particularly persons in the Coolie Town area.
“We are asking if anybody should know of any unusual occurrence that happened in their community to come forward and share that information with us, because we need to ensure that this substance is not still out there and to prevent further persons from becoming at risk of ingesting this substance,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks spoke of persons appearing to be intoxicated after consuming the mysterious substance, complaining of problems with their eyes and becoming unconscious shortly after – then coming in to be diagnosed.
A press release from the Ministry of Health noted that patients were presented to the Victoria Hospital at varying times with unusual symptoms, such as sudden onset of blindness, abnormal abdominal pain and in some cases, persons developed rapid unconsciousness and death. And that the symptoms seem more in keeping with a poisonous substance.
“We do not believe that the individuals died of an infectious disease. We have heard rumours of a possible toxic substance, perhaps something that looks like and smells like alcohol being stolen and shared, but have no evidence at this point of what the actual toxin may be,” claimed the press release.
The release further stated that whilst the Ministry continues its investigation in the community, alongside the police, the Ministry is cautioning persons against drinking alcohol, especially drinks from unrecognized sources. Further, persons who believe they may have been exposed are also invited to visit a health facility where they can be examined, tested and managed.
The emergency room of Victoria Hospital, she said, has been flooded with persons from the Coolie Town area who believed they have been exposed to the enigmatic substance.
“We want to ensure persons that so far it does not look like an infectious agent, so we are not expecting an infectious disease or something that can be contagious (that) can be spread from one person to another.
“Although we do not have all the intelligence so far, it does seem to point to some kind of a toxic, poisonous substance that persons may have been exposed to, more than likely through drinking or food.
Be sure you know what you are taking in,” she cautioned the public.