Aflatoxicosis is poisoning that results from ingestion of
aflatoxins in contaminated food or feed. The aflatoxins are a group
of toxic compounds produced by certain strains of the fungi
favorable conditions of temperature and humidity, these fungi grow
on certain foods and feeds, resulting in the production of
aflatoxins. The most pronounced contamination has been encountered
in tree nuts, peanuts, and other oilseeds, including corn and
cottonseed. The major aflatoxins of concern are designated B1, B2,
G1, and G2. These toxins are usually found together in various
foods and feeds in various proportions; however, aflatoxin B1 is
usually predominant and is the most toxic.
In the United States, aflatoxins have been identified in corn
and corn products, peanuts and peanut products, cottonseed, milk,
and tree nuts such as Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, and
walnuts. Other grains and nuts are susceptible but less prone to
The adverse effects of aflatoxins in animals (and presumably in
humans) have been categorized in two general forms:
- (Primary) Acute aflatoxicosis
is produced when moderate
to high levels of aflatoxins are consumed. Specific, acute episodes
of disease may include hemorrhage, acute liver damage, edema,
alteration in digestion, absorption and/or metabolism of nutrients,
and possibly death.
- (Primary) Chronic aflatoxicosis
results from ingestion
of low to moderate levels of aflatoxins. The effects are usually
subclinical and difficult to recognize. Some of the common symptoms
are impaired food conversion and slower rates of growth with or
without the production of an overt aflatoxin syndrome.
Aflatoxicosis in humans has rarely been reported. However, such
cases are not always recognized. Aflatoxicosis may be suspected
when a disease outbreak exhibits the following characteristics:
- The cause is not readily identifiable.
- The condition is not transmissible.
- Syndromes may be associated with certain batches of food.
- Treatment with antibiotics or other drugs has little
- The outbreak may be seasonal, i.e., weather conditions may
affect mold growth.
The relative frequency of aflatoxicosis in humans in the United
States is not known. No outbreaks have been reported in humans.
Sporadic cases have been reported in animals.
In well-developed countries, aflatoxin contamination rarely
occurs in foods at levels that cause acute aflatoxicosis in humans.
Studies in Africa and Southeast Asia have revealed an association
between cancer incidence and the aflatoxin content of the diet.
These studies have not proven a cause-effect relationship, but the
evidence suggests an association.
Although humans and animals are susceptible to the effects of
acute aflatoxicosis, the chances of human exposure to acute levels
of aflatoxin is remote in well-developed countries. In undeveloped
countries, human susceptibility can vary with age, health, and
level and duration of exposure.
Food and Drug
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