A pilot study to evaluate aflatoxin exposure in a rural Ugandan population

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Abstract

Objectives

The fungal metabolite aflatoxin is a common contaminant of foodstuffs, especially when stored in damp conditions. In humans, high levels can result in acute hepatic necrosis and death, while chronic exposure is carcinogenic. We conducted a pilot study nested within an existing population cohort (the General Population Cohort), to assess exposure to aflatoxin, among people living in rural south-western Uganda.

Methods

Sera from 100 adults and 96 children under 3 years of age (85 male, 111 female) were tested for aflatoxin–albumin adduct (AF-alb), using an ELISA assay. Socio-demographic and dietary data were obtained for all participants; HIV serostatus was available for 90 adults and liver function tests (LFTs) for 99.

Results

Every adult and all but four children had detectable AF-alb adduct, including five babies reported to be exclusively breastfed. Levels ranged from 0 to 237.7 pg/mg albumin and did not differ significantly between men and women, by age or by HIV serostatus; 25% had levels above 15.1 pg/mg albumin. There was evidence of heterogeneity between villages (P = 0.003); those closest to trading centres had higher levels. Adults who consumed more Matooke (bananas) had lower levels of AF-alb adduct (P = 0.02) than adults who did not, possibly because their diet contained fewer aflatoxin-contaminated foods such as posho (made from maize). Children who consumed soya, which is not grown locally, had levels of AF-alb adduct that were almost twice as high as those who did not eat soya (P = 0.04).

Conclusions

Exposure to aflatoxin is ubiquitous among the rural Ugandans studied, with a significant number of people having relatively high levels. Sources of exposure need to be better understood to instigate practical and sustainable interventions.

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