A mystery illness that has killed 21 people in Panama was caused by adulterated cough and anti-allergy syrups that were likely contaminated with a toxic chemical on purpose, officials said.
Health Minister Camilo Alleyne told reporters that several sugar-free cough syrups, some containing anti-histamine, were found contaminated with diethylene glycol, an alcohol used as a coolant in brake fluids and hydraulic systems.
He ruled out human error, saying it was likely the locally produced generic medicines had been tampered with maliciously. The government has removed the syrups from clinics.
Alleyne said the alcohol was discovered with the help of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that the US Food and Drug Administration was assisting studies.
He said the chemical, which is not intended for human consumption causes the same symptoms as those displayed by those who died - acute kidney failure and death.
"This is a substance that should not be present in any way among the products or medicines," said Alleyne. "It is a toxic substance and definitely should not be found in any solution or preparation in the laboratory, or any medicine."