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Identifying a "Mystery Illness" in Panama

In 2006, the Environmental Health Laboratory helped to figure out the cause of death of at least 50 people in the Republic of Panama. Using advanced laboratory science and innovative techniques, CDC scientists identified diethylene glycol (DEG), a chemical that is used in antifreeze, in cough syrup taken by victims of the poisoning. As a result of the Branch's work, Panamanian health authorities quickly recalled 60,000 bottles of the contaminated medications, an action that ultimately saved many lives. Following the Panama investigation, the laboratory validated the method for measuring DEG in human urine. This method was used to confirm exposure to DEG in a subsequent case-control study. In the future, the method will be a powerful tool to identify other people who have been poisoned with DEG.

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