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Fatal Cause of the Killer Milk Tea Still a Mystery

Summer time calls for cool beach getaways and of course cold thirst quenching beverages. Fruity smoothies, pearl shakes and milk teas seem to be a fad when it comes to summer refreshments. From big franchise stores to small time stalls, Filipinos have patronized and developed that growing interest in milk tea. Recently however, there were series of isolated cases of unfavorable customer experiences with this much loved drink.

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Image credit:philstar.com

Last April 9, 2015, two dead and one critical after ingesting a suspected ‘contaminated’ milk tea. Couple Suzanne Dagohoy and Arnold Aydalla went for a quick refreshment at Ergo Cha in Bustillos Sampaloc Manila. The owner of the establishment himself, William Abrigo prepared the Hokkaido – flavored milk tea which the couple ordered. After tasting the milk tea, both complained that it tasted differently. To disprove the claims, Abrigo tasted the milk tea he prepared. Three minutes after ingestion, Dagohoy experienced retching, dizziness, loss of consciousness, twitching of extremities and pallor. Abrigo prepared another milk tea and tasted it again. After his second intake, Abrigo then experienced weakness, loss of consciousness, and generalized tonic – clonic convulsion. Aydalla on the other hand had fast breathing, tightness of chest, weakness on his extremities and corpopedal spasms after 7 minutes of intake.

Dagohoy and Abrigo both fainted, lost their consciousness and were rushed to Ospital ng Sampaloc along with Aydalla. Unfortunately, Dagohoy and Abrigo died around 3:55 and 4:45 respectively. Aydalla was initially in critical condition but is now stable.

Initial investigation revealed that Abrigo’s son allegedly brought some chemicals to the store, according to the store’s helper Joseph Garnacio. Dr. Marie Luna the attending physician at Ospital ng Sampaloc, said that the probable chemical that could’ve brought to death of the patients is organophosphate. Organophosphate is the main ingredient in pesticides and is highly toxic when ingested especially to children or to those with weak immune system. In the US, its use has been controlled to small dosages and even banned in some jurisdiction. When taken in our system,  considerable amounts organophosphate will lead to seizures, respiratory failure, coma and even death.

On very recent development, the Department of Health failed to discover any trace of toxic substance from the sample of milk tea. The DOH in coordination with the Food and Drug Administration and the Toxicologists from University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital conducted an in depth follow up investigation. “Initial results were negative for any suspected toxic substances… However, expanded and exhaustive tests will include biological samples from the victims such as blood, tissues, and gastric contents taken from the autopsy.” the DOH released in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health appealed to the public not to generalize the incident since it was an isolated case, as many small and medium enterprises are dependent on milk tea and similar beverages. However, the department is firm in reminding the general public about the serious health impact of cyanide containing silver jewelry cleaning solutions. DOH alerts the public about the initial signs and symptoms of poisoning which include: vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, impaired or loss of consciousness. Regardless of the level of poisoning, patients should seek immediate medical attention.

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