updated 12/2/2008 7:32:48 PM ET 2008-12-03T00:32:48

Nigerian food and drug regulators on Tuesday updated the death toll to 34 in an outbreak of fatalities among infants given a locally made teething formula tainted with a toxic thickening agent.

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When the outbreak was first reported last week, 25 children were reported dead.

The deadly agent entered the production process for "My Pikin Baby Teething Mixture" when an official of the Lagos-based maker procured a tainted ingredient from an unregistered chemical dealer in a sprawling slum near the city's main dump, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control said.

About 10 gallons of the deadly chemical were delivered in an unsealed, unlabeled plastic container, according to the agency, which is known by the acronym Nafdac.

Several officials of the pharmaceutical maker, Barewa Pharmaceuticals Ltd., were under arrest along with several other suspects accused of helping provide the tainted ingredient.

A phone number listed for the company was not working Tuesday and officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Product pulled
The food and drug agency said the first sickened child was taken for treatment on Nov. 19, in Nigeria's far northern region. Similar cases were documented in subsequent days in Nigeria's densely populated southwest, and investigators isolated the product as common to all the ailing children.

The drug was ordered pulled from shelves across the country, and the agency said Tuesday it had recovered more than 2,000 bottles of the teething formula, including 255 bottles from the tainted batch. It didn't say how many bottles of the bad formula existed.

The agency said it was flying in 100 doses of an antidote from London to treat any other teething infants that have kidney problems after being given the medicine.

The afflicted children were stricken with fever, convulsions, diarrhea, vomiting and were unable to urinate after being given the product, which contained diethylene glycol.

The agency said Barewa Pharmaceuticals appears to have been told it was purchasing propylene glycol, a normal ingredient in the teething formula.

Nafdac said the pharmaceutical company had always bought that ingredient through approved channels before. It didn't say why the officials had gone to a local market in the instance that led to the rash of infant deaths.

Diethylene glycol is commonly found in antifreeze and brake fluid and sometimes used illegally as a cheaper alternative to glycerin, which thickens toothpaste. Exposure can cause kidney and liver damage.

The contaminant has been implicated in poisoning cases around the world, including in Panama, where at least 116 people died after taking contaminated cough syrup, antihistamine tablets, calamine lotion and rash ointment made at a government laboratory.

Nigeria has been plagued by tainted, fake or untested drugs since it gained independence from Britain in 1960. Around 200 babies died in 1990 in similar circumstances.

The food and drug administration has drawn plaudits from Nigerians in recent years for having cut down on counterfeit or dangerous medicines.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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