Prosecutors Probe Mysterious Illness in Panama

October 13, 2006

PANAMA CITY – Panamanian prosecutors this week said they plan to investigate the deaths of at least 19 people from a kidney ailment possibly caused by a toxic substance and that led to the removal of a medication from the market.

State prosecutor Luis Martínez told Panamanian television that even though no complaints had been filed in connection with the deaths, an investigation would be carried out on a case-by-case basis.

Most of those who became ill and died were over 60 and experienced nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and they suffered from diabetes, kidney problems and high blood pressure, officials said.

On Oct. 6, the Panamanian Health Ministry ordered the pill Lisinopril, a blood pressure medication, pulled off the market as a “temporary and preventive measure.”

The Spanish drug company that makes Lisinopril and its Panamanian distributor said the medication “is not the cause of this situation.”

Spain’s Normon pharmaceutical company, which makes Lisinopril, and C.G. de Haseth, distributor of the product in Panama, said in a statement Oct. 8 that they were “willing to cooperate with official agencies to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

Patients, meanwhile, began to exchange the medication this weekend for other drugs at public hospitals.

At least 30 cases of the deadly kidney illness have been reported in Panama.

Officials have not said when the first death occurred, but unofficial reports stated that the first case may have been registered between June and July.

“We insist that only a minority (of the cases) consumed this product, which appears to make it clear that Lisinopril Normon was not the cause of this situation,” the companies said in their statement.

“Based on the data we have on hand, we are totally convinced of the quality of our product and that this situation was due to other causes, not to Lisinopril Normon.

“Lisinopril is a widely used pharmaceutical and has been sold for more than 15 years all over the world without ever producing a similar situation. It is consumed by millions of people,” the companies’ statement concluded.

Health Minister Camilo Alleyne reiterated Oct. 7 that investigators were “looking at the presence of a toxic agent as the likely cause” of the illness, with various medications being examined.

Laboratory tests have ruled out bacterial infections from E. coli and Campylobacter; dengue, Influenza B, West Nile and equine encephalitis viruses; and toxins, such as arsenic, as the possible cause of death, Alleyne said.

Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, George, are in Panama to assist Panamanian and Pan-American Health Organization specialists with the investigation into the deaths.

 

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