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Medical condition can elevate BAC levels in nondrinkers

Motorists in Virginia and around the country can be charged with driving while under the influence when they get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. Prosecutors usually rely on toxicology test results to establish that a DUI suspect was impaired, but blood and breath analysis does not always tell the complete story. This is because there is a rare medical condition that can elevate blood alcohol levels substantially even when those who suffer from it consume no alcohol at all.

The condition is known as auto-brewery syndrome. Bacteria or fungi in the digestive tracts of ABS sufferers produce alcohol by fermenting carbohydrates, and bouts of the condition are sometimes brought on simply by taking antibiotics. The British Medical Journal published a case study in August about a 46-year-old man who developed ABS after taking an antibiotic medication for three weeks to treat a thumb injury.

The man's condition came to light when he was charged with drunk driving after a breath test revealed his blood alcohol concentration to be more than double the legal driving limit. A doctor in Ohio diagnosed ABS after discovering two types of yeast in a stool sample. The man was eventually cured and his gut bacteria restored by an intensive treatment plan that included intravenous antifungal medications and probiotic supplements.

ABS is one of several medical conditions that could influence the outcome of toxicology tests. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may challenge the results of breath and blood tests and seek to have DUI charges dismissed when their clients suffer from diabetes or gastrointestinal reflux disease or follow ketogenic diets that are extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Attorneys might also seek to have BAC evidence excluded when the equipment used to gather it was not properly maintained or the police officers involved deviated from strict testing protocols.

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