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Tainted pain reliever tied to children's deaths

  • Story Highlights
  • Propylene glycol usually added as a solvent in the syrup for paracetamol
  • Drug company in eastern Bangladesh instead added diethyl glycol
  • Chemical used in textile factories causes renal failure
  • Twenty-five children, ages 1 to 5, have died in the past six weeks
By Saeed Ahmed
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(CNN) -- A toxic chemical added to a popular pain reliever likely killed two dozen children in Bangladesh, health officials said Tuesday.

Pharmaceutical companies usually add propylene glycol as a solvent in the syrup for paracetamol, which is sold over the counter to relieve pain and reduce fever.

But tests revealed that a drug company in eastern Bangladesh had instead added diethyl glycol to its paracetamol syrup, said Health Minister Dr. A.F.M. Ruhal Haque.

The chemical, used in textile factories and leather dying plants, causes renal failure. It is 10 times cheaper than propylene glycol, Haque said.

Twenty-five children, ages 1 to 5, have died in the past six weeks. The tainted medication killed most, if not all, of them, authorities said.

"The exact number is difficult to say," Haque said. "Some of the patients have a definite history of taking this syrup, but there are some other kids who died of kidney failure who appear not to have."

Most of the deaths have been reported in the district of Comilla, where the factory is. The plant has been shut down.

No criminal charges have been filed in the deaths, authorities added.

In 1990, paracetamol solution laced with diethyl glycol sickened 339 children throughout Bangladesh, most of whom later died.

The deaths prompted the government to ban the sale of paracetamol syrup for some time. As a result, cases of kidney failure decreased by 54 percent, according to a 1995 study by the Dhaka Children's Hospital.

Deaths from diethyl glycol added to paracetamol syrup have been reported in several other countries, including Haiti, where 85 children died in 1996.

In the United States, paracetamol is sold generically as acetaminophen. Brand names include Tylenol.

"It is important to stress that paracetamol is not to blame," Haque said. "We don't want people to be frightened. It's the solvent that was used in this case."

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