Generic hypertension drug a suspect in 19 deaths in Panama

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As a result of a mystery illness that has claimed the lives of 19 people, officials in Panama have withdrawn all stocks of a hypertension drug used by thousands to treat high blood pressure.

According to Health Minister Camilo Alleyne, the drug Lisinopril is being withdrawn from pharmacies, hospitals and private clinics across the Central American country while scientists test the drug for toxic agents that they suspect has poisoned 30 people.

Alleyne says the exact cause is not completely confirmed but the drug is being withdrawn from use as a safety precaution.

Lisinopril, a drug made by several companies, is used to treat hypertension and heart failure.

The first death was reported a month ago, and since then the death toll has risen to 19.

The mystery illness begins with nausea, fever, diarrhea and weakness, progressing quickly to acute kidney failure, partial paralysis and death.

Eleven more people are sick and the illness has struck in the main elderly men being treated for high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disorders.

Most were taking a number of medications and post-mortem tests have revealed damage to kidney and nerve tissue, which lead experts to suspect some form of toxic poisoning.

It is estimated that as many as 7,000 Panamanians have public health service prescriptions for Lisinopril along with many private patients.

Obvious causes such as dengue fever, influenza and West Nile virus have been ruled out by Panamanian and U.S. scientists.

The Spanish drug maker Normon SA says its hypertension tablets are not the cause of the mystery illness but nine of the people who became ill were taking Lisinopril, of whom five have died.

Normon insists that only a minority of those who consumed the product, have become ill which they say indicates that Lisinopril is not responsible for the situation.

The drug company says its scientists, along with the official distributors of the generic drug in Panama, analyzed batches of the tablets in Panama and found them to be normal.

The company says Lisinopril has been on the market internationally for 15 years with no problems and they are prepared to guarantee their product.

Government scientists who tested the tablets also detected no toxic agents.

The version of Lisinopril made by Normon, a laboratory specializing in generic medicines, arrived on the Panamanian market in mid-August, shortly before the illness broke out.

Normon sells its drugs in Europe, Central and South America, Asia and Africa.

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