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Vet on call: With aflatoxin poisoning, even dogs are not safe

Saturday November 16 2019

Livestock rummage for food at a dumpsite.

Livestock rummage for food at a dumpsite. Food from garbage sites where dogs, goats, and cows scavenge is dangerous since chances are that it has aflatoxin. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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NTV’s White Alert exposé brought out all that is wrong with the Kenyan food and health authorities, as they have left consumers at the mercy of racketeers out to make profits at all costs.

Since the documentary was aired, a number of people have asked me what they are expected to eat since milk and meat are heavily laced with aflatoxin.

The gastronomic dilemma is legitimate considering that many are obsessed with ugali, milk and other related foods.

By coincidence, my most frustrating case this week was acute aflatoxin poisoning in a loved family dog. I empathised with the pet owner and felt their pain when the sun finally set on Jimmy.

The dog was brought to my clinic on Sunday evening, a few hours before the airing of Denis Okari’s exposé. Jimmy had been brought the previous day, with a history of being hit by a motor cycle outside the family gate.

Examination on that day showed an upper normal temperature of 39.2 degrees Centigrade and mild pain in the chest area but no obvious signs of injury consistent with a vehicle knock.

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There was also mild harshness of respiratory sounds. Blood analysis showed bacterial infection. This prompted me to treat the dog with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

The second visit was an emergency. Jimmy could not even stand. Examination showed dehydration, severe weakness and a blank gaze.

The mucous membranes of the eyes and gums were heavily reddened and turning purple. He had marked abdominal pain and laboured breathing. Rectal examination revealed dark, bloody liquid faeces.

Temperature was normal at 38.8 degrees Centigrade. Tests for suspect viruses and amoeba-like organisms were negative.

HOT HUMID CONDITIONS

After the second examination, I suspected Jimmy had acute aflatoxin poisoning and admitted him for further treatment and observation. By the following day, the dog deteriorated to frank blood diarrhoea and vomiting before dying.

Post-mortem examination showed all the internal signs of acute aflatoxicosis. There was heavy bleeding in the stomach and intestines. The liver, kidney, lungs and heart were swollen and bleeding. The bladder was full with bloody urine.

I briefed the dog owner on aflatoxin poisoning in dogs, explaining that it is also a warning to humans whenever it occurs.

It indicates they could also be exposed. This is particularly so if humans and dogs share the same food or food sources.

Fortunately, this family and their dogs eat food from different sources. It became apparent the dog may have been poisoned by feeding on spoilt waste food from a garbage bin.

I am motivated to share this story because in Kenya, we put a lot of emphasis on food production both from crops and animals.

However, our production practices and the post-harvest management of food are neglected. This puts all food consumers, including animals, at the risk of infection with food-borne diseases or poisoning with mycotoxins and production chemicals.

The most common and toxic mycotoxin poisoning both in animals and humans is aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus.

The fungus grows best under hot humid conditions and thrives best on sugary foods such as maize, wheat, oil nuts, legumes and fruits. Maize, being the main food source for both humans and animals, ranks the most common source of aflatoxins.

SAFEGUARDING CINSUMERS

Once AFB1 is ingested by cattle, it is modified in the body to AFM1, which is excreted in milk. Therefore, dairy cattle consuming aflatoxin-contaminated feed will also expose people to AFM1 when they consume milk.

Aflatoxin poisoning in Kenya is not a new phenomenon. In fact, lots of data exist on the problem but the country has not taken decisive steps in safeguarding consumers.

Research shows that reports of aflatoxin poisoning in both humans and animals existed even before independence as shown on the table below.

Aflatoxin cases in the country in the past
Aflatoxin cases in the country in the past years. TABLE | COURTESY

The Kenya Bureau of Standards can be credited with developing a standard for aflatoxins in foods and feeds. It allows up to 10 parts per billion or 10 micro-grams per kilo of food or feed for total aflatoxins.

It also allows maximum 5 parts per billion for total AFB1. However, setting the standards is not enough. It must be followed by stringent training of all food producers, handlers, processors, distributors and consumers on how best to minimise mycotoxin contamination of food at all levels to optimise food safety.

There must also be dedicated enforcement of compliance to the standard. This calls for cooperation, coordination and collaboration in food safety interventions among the various State agencies and courts.