Aflatoxin Poisoning: Symptoms, Treatment & Effects

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  • 0:00 Definition of Aflatoxicosis
  • 0:43 Signs, Symptoms, and Effects
  • 2:31 Treatment of Aflatoxicosis
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

What does the Patriot Act, toxins, and corn have to do with one another? It all relates to aflatoxins. Find out what they are, what they do to us, and how we try and deal with their effects.

Definition of Aflatoxicosis

Do you love to eat corn, rice, or wheat products like bread? If you do, then there's some bad news for you. It's called aflatoxin poisoning, or more appropriately aflatoxicosis, a condition that results from eating food contaminated with aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are toxins produced by fungi, namely Aspergillus flavus. If this fungus grows on a crop and produces these toxins while doing so, we can be poisoned by the aflatoxins if we then eat that crop. This lesson goes over the signs, symptoms, and effects this may cause in humans as well as potential treatment options.

Signs, Symptoms, and Effects

Unfortunately, unlike some of the temporary signs and symptoms of food poisoning that stem from a run-of-the-mill virus, aflatoxin is extremely poisonous in the short and long term, and the symptoms of aflatoxicosis can last. In fact, aflatoxins are so dangerous that the original version of the U.S. Patriot Act considers their handling a potential crime, depending on who you are. That's because if some nefarious character were to get their hands on these toxins, they could use it for bioterrorism and the consequences of it could be severe.

Aflatoxins can cause:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Convulsions
  • Pulmonary edema, which is fluid buildup (edema) in the lungs ('pulmon-')
  • Cerebral edema, which is fluid buildup in the brain ('cerebro-')
  • Blood abnormalities, such as an increased risk of bleeding out
  • Severe damage to the liver
  • Damage to the kidneys and heart
  • Death

Which signs and problems occur all depends on the level of exposure. If someone consumes a lot of the toxins all at once, he or she will likely experience the aforementioned signs, especially if the person is a child, pregnant, old, or already sick with something else. If someone eats only very small quantities but over a very long period of time, the person may not feel any immediate ill-effects but over the long run may get liver cancer.

There is also the possibility that someone inhaling mold particles contaminated with aflatoxin, such as those handling lots of grain products as part of a job, over a long period of time will get lung cancer. In fact, aflatoxins are considered to be one of the most potent natural carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents, known to us.

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