Toll from Cuba alcohol poisoning climbs to 11

A nurse walks outside the Cristobal Labra health clinic, where according to local media, victims of an alcohol poisoning incident were first treated before being transferred to a hospital, in Havana on July 31, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A nurse walks outside the Cristobal Labra health clinic, where according to local media, victims of an alcohol poisoning incident were first treated before being transferred to a hospital, in Havana on July 31, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA, Havana Province (AFP) - Eleven people have died in Cuba after consuming alcohol sold illegally on the street, according to an updated toll out on Friday.

"Four people remain in critical condition, two of whom are receiving hemodialysis," Mr Efren Acosta, deputy director of Havana's provincial health department, said.

At least 60 people have been hospitalised since the poisoning was first detected on Monday, Mr Acosta said.

Until now all deaths had occurred in Havana's western La Lisa neighborhood, but the 11th happened on the opposite side of town.

Authorities say laboratory alcohol was stolen by two employees of a state-run pharmacy institute and then sold on the street.

Methyl alcohol, or methanol, has similar characteristics to ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, which is what gives alcoholic beverages their intoxicating effect.

Methanol is commonly used in scientific laboratories, but if ingested can cause blindness or death.

The average monthly income in Cuba is US$20 (S$25.50), and many people buy food and drink of unknown origin on the black market because it is cheaper.

Cuba, the last one-party communist state in the Western Hemisphere, has been under a United States economic embargo for more than half a century.