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The lives of 109 cancer patients in Costa Rica were in danger after an accidental radiation overdose during treatment, a senior medical official said Saturday.

Alvaro Salas, head of the state Social Security Institute, said the accident was detected after the victims, including seven children -- who had undergone radiation treatment in the hospital of San Juan de Dios in San Jose -- suffered unusual diarrhea, skin infections and inflammation of the mucous membrane in the mouth and stomach.

Salas said there was an error in calibrating one of the pumps of radioactive cobalt used in the treatment, which meant the patients were overexposed to radioactive material.

They had been urgently called back for tests by international specialists, he said, adding that the full impact of the error would not be known until next week.

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