Saturday, December 11, 2004
Venom of Villains
Doctor: Yushchenko Poisoned With Dioxin
VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Dioxin poisoning caused the mysterious illness of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, a doctor said Saturday, adding that the poison could have been put in his soup.
Yushchenko is now in satisfactory condition and dioxin levels in his liver have returned to normal, Dr. Michael Zimpfer, director of Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic, said at a news conference.
A series of tests run over the past 24 hours provided conclusive evidence of the poisoning, Zimpfer said.
"There is no doubt about the fact that Mr. Yushchenko's disease - especially following the results of the blood work - has been caused by a case of poisoning by dioxin," Zimpfer said.
The 50-year-old opposition leader first fell ill in September and was rushed to the Vienna hospital. He resumed campaigning later in the month but his mysterious illness had left his face pockmarked and ashen.
Yushchcenko also suffered back pain, acute pancreatitis and nerve paralysis on the left side of his face.
He has accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to poison him ahead of Ukraine's presidential vote - an allegation they have denied.
"We suspect involvement of an external party, but we cannot answer as to who cooked what or who was with him while he ate," Zimpfer said, adding that tests showed the dioxin was taken orally.
Zimpfer said Yushchenko's blood and tissue registered concentrations of dioxin - one of the most toxic chemicals - that were 1,000 times above normal levels.
When first seen by the Austrian doctors, Yushchenko was in a "critical stage" but was "not on the verge of dying," Zimpfer said.
"If this dose had been higher, it may have caused death," Zimpfer said.
Dioxin - one of the contaminants found in Agent Orange - is formed as a by-product from industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching.
The tests showed that Yushchenko suffered from chloracne, a type of adult acne caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, which sometimes takes two to three years to heal, hospital dermatologist Hubert Pehmberger told The Associated Press.
Dioxins are a normal contaminant in many foods, but a single high dose can trigger illness, London-based toxicologist John Henry said last month.
Shortly after the announcement of the diagnosis on Saturday, Henry told British Broadcasting Corp. television that Yushchenko's case was, in his experience, unique.
"We've never had a case like this, a known case of large, severe dioxin poisoning ... It's normally fairly mild. It can cause liver damage," he said. "It's usually low-level, long-term poisoning. A very large dose, nobody has any real idea of what it would cause. Now we do know."