Several intoxications have been reported following the consumption of contaminated cereals. The causative agents are pyrrolizidine alkaloids, produced by the genera Senecio, Crotalaria and Heliotropium.
Epidemics of pyrrolizidine intoxication have been reported in India and Afghanistan in 1973 and 1976.
In India, millet, the principal cereal in the diet, appeared to be heavily contaminated with Crotalaria seeds. The alkaloid content of the seeds was estimated at 5.3 mg/g, while the precentage of Crotalaria seeds in millet varied from 0.0 to 0.34% in unaffected households and 0.0 to 1.9% in affected households.
In Afghanistan, the consumption of wheat bread heavily contaminated with Heliotropium seeds was found to be the cause of the intoxication. In this epidemic, the minimum daily consumption per person during 2 years was estimated at 2 mg. The disease had been observed in preceding years, but worsened after the occurrence of a severe drought which caused the wheat fields to become heavily infested with Heliotropium.
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