Mycotoxins are a group of toxic chemical compounds produced by strains of some fungal species when they grow under favorable conditions on a wide range of foods and feeds (CAST, 2003). There are three main genera of fungi that produce mycotoxins: Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium. Of the mycotoxins, five types are of major agricultural and human health significance: (i) aflatoxins, (ii) fumonisins, (iii) ochratoxin A, (iv) zearalenone and (v) the trichothecenes, e.g., T-2, diacetoxyscirpenol, deoxynivalenol and nivalenol. Mycotox-ins generally are of concern in human health, food safety and trade because of their acute and chronic effects on humans and domesticated animals. The presence of excessive mycotoxins can cause grain shipments to be rejected by importing countries resulting in a loss in consumer confidence in the importing country and severe economic losses for the exporting country.

Mycotoxins affect several agricultural products, including cereals, oilseeds, pulses, root crops, dried fruits, and coffee beans which form the agricultural economic backbone of most developing countries in Africa. Contamination of agricultural products occurs as a result of infection by toxigenic fungi under favorable environmental conditions in the field

© CAB International 2008. Mycotoxins: Detection Methods, Management, Public Health - 103 -and Agricultural Trade (eds. J. F. Leslie et al.).

and may occur at various stages in the food chain, e.g., preharvest, during harvest, drying, storage and/or processing. Whether fungi will grow and produce toxins depends on the environmental conditions and the specific temperature and water activity requirements of the particular fungus (Marín et al., 2001, 2004).

Mycotoxin contamination is a world-wide problem and is not confined to any one geographical area or country. Countries in West Africa include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Central Africa consists of Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. These countries lie within latitudes 3° 30' south and 17° 00' north of the Equator and longitudes 32° 00' east and 17° 00' west of Greenwich. Countries within West and Central Africa contain a wide variation in climatic conditions ranging from almost temperate with frost and possible snow in parts of Rwanda through tropical hot and humid conditions in most of West Africa to desert and arid areas in the Northern parts of Mali and Niger. Generally, the conditions of temperature and humidity found in most of these countries are favorable for the growth of toxigenic fungi and mycotoxin production.

In this chapter, we summarize the health effects of each major group of mycotoxins and present data on the levels of these mycotoxins in foods in the West and Central African countries. Evidence of human exposure to mycotoxins also is presented through data on mycotoxin levels in body fluids.

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