49 Dead From Alcohol Poisoning in Kenya

A black market alcoholic brew laced with poisonous methanol has caused the deaths of 49 people in Kenya (search), medical workers said Sunday, while police searched for a woman suspected of distributing the drink to local bars.

More than 174 people were hospitalized after drinking the brew containing methanol (search), a toxic wood alcohol added to the drink — called chang'aa — to give it more kick.

"Two people have gone completely blind, and another eight have reduced vision of varying degree," said Simon Mueke, medical superintendent at the Machakos General Hospital (search).

Patients overwhelmed the small hospital in Machakos district, about 35 miles southeast of Nairobi. TV footage from Saturday showed nurses in a crowded hospital ward working frantically to resuscitate poisoned patients. Other patients were shown being intravenously rehydrated, and some drunk patients were pictured struggling to stay on their feet.

"We are appealing for blankets and bed sheets for the patients," Mueke said. "The weather is very cold, and this is an extraordinary emergency that has stretched our capacity beyond its limits."

Police brought 15 bodies to the hospital Saturday, and another 34 people died while receiving emergency treatment Sunday, Mueke said.

Police have arrested several suspects but were still searching for a woman suspected of distributing the illegal brew to several illegal bars.