Aflatoxin: A fungal toxin infecting the food chain

Aflatoxins present both acute and chronic health effects. Acute exposure to very high levels of aflatoxins can be fatal, as has happened in Kenya in recent years. The most severe outbreak of aflatoxicosis ever reported in Kenya occurred in 2004 in Eastern Province, resulting in 317 cases of illness and 125 deaths.

Chronic exposure to low levels of aflatoxins has been linked to liver cancer, which is estimated to lead to as many as 26,000 deaths annually in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed can end up in milk, meat and eggs. Infants are also at risk as aflatoxins can be passed in breast milk, and  in utero via the umbilical cord. Exposure to aflatoxins has been associated with stunting in children, as well as suppression of the immune system.

The infographic below gives a pictorial representation of the flow of aflatoxins in the food chain.