Corn, nuts and other foods can develop the Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus fungi when they are stored in warehouses in developing countries which lets off poisonous aflatoxin – a carcinogenic substance.
US researchers studying patients in Ghana have found, in addition to the known risks of liver damage and cancers, aflatoxin may help spread AIDS.
“Aflatoxin exposure may be taking an even greater toll in areas where millions are infected with HIV, including Africa and Asia, the latter with a fast-growing HIV population and rice storage areas contaminated by fungi,” said Pauline Jolly, Epidemiology professor, University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Jolly’s team studied 314 HIV-positive Ghanaians who were not taking antiretroviral drugs. Scientists found patients with higher levels of aflatoxin exposure were 2.6 times more likely to have a high HIV viral load, which means they are more likely to pass on the disease, and to develop AIDS sooner.
The researchers structured the study to cover areas such as opportunistic infections and antiviral combination therapy.
“We have done a series of studies now confirming a link between HIV viral load and aflatoxin exposure, but the problem has not yet been recognized or addressed,” said Jolly.
“A fungal contribution to HIV transmission will only be proved once and for all by larger randomized studies for which there now is no funding. The scientific and world-health communities need to decide soon whether or not this question is worth answering.”
The report was published in World Mycotoxin Journal.