Aflatoxin is produced by a wide variety of Aspergillus species and is highly toxic to people & animals when eaten in contaminated food.
In this case the contaminated food is known to be maize that is grown and then stored without sufficient drying or is stored in damp conditions. Maize is the main staple food in many parts of Africa and is grown for food and for profit. It is interesting to note that this has happened in this case at the end of a period of drought and famine as we know that Aspergillus is good at infecting a crop that is stressed by damage or water shortage so perhaps that is a factor in this outbreak?
This is the latest in a series of outbreaks of aflatoxin contamination. The largest recorded recent outbreak was in 2004 which led to 317 cases of aflatoxicosis and 125 deaths. Apart from the cost in human lives there is a huge cost to the livelihood of many farmers across a large area - the report mentions 29 districts affected. Contaminated grain cannot be sold for a good price or cannot be sold at all (depending on the level of contamination) and millions of bags of grain have been affected.
We have written several times of the methods being developed to limit aflatoxin contamination of crops: