Ergotism

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ergotism

[′ər·gə‚tiz·əm]
(medicine)
Acute or chronic intoxication resulting from ingestion of grain infected with ergot fungus, or from chronic use of drugs containing ergot.

Ergotism

 

a poisoning of humans and animals by ergot or ergot medicines. In humans, ergotism causes a variety of somatic, neurological, and mental disorders. Until the 1920’s, epidemics of ergotism occurred as a result of eating bread made from rye contaminated by ergot. The initial symptoms are gastrointestinal disorders, headache, and fatigue. In severe cases, psychoses are observed in a few days, for example, clouding of consciousness (twilight effect, delirium), restlessness, fear, anxiety, and depression. Convulsions are common. Collapse may occur, and gangrene occasionally develops as a result of the constriction of peripheral blood vessels. Neurological symptoms include paresthesia, impairment of reflexes, and difficulty in walking and speaking.

Acute poisoning by ergot medicines is treated by gastric lavage and the administration of calcium chloride as an antidote. Warm baths, sedatives, anticonvulsants, and drugs that stimulate respiration and blood circulation are prescribed.

Animals may contract ergotism after feeding on wild ergotized cereal grasses or on meal, bran, and grain wastes mixed with ergot. The disease is prevalent in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand and occurs sporadically in the USSR. All species of animals, including birds, are susceptible to ergotism. Acute poisoning in horses and sheep involves the central nervous system and digestive tract. Symptoms may include stimulation, depression, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, ulcerative stomatitis, convulsions, and sometimes abortion. In chronic gangrenous ergotism of cattle and swine, necrotic portions of skin and hoof fall off along with the mane and tail in horses; parts of the comb and wattle fall off in chickens.

Treatment depends on the symptoms. Laxatives, gastric lavage, and enemas are given to remove the poison from the stomach and intestine. Tannin solutions are used to bind the poison in the intestine. Ergotism can be prevented by promptly harvesting grains and cereal grasses before the sclerotia of the fungus matures, cleaning seeds to be planted, and checking the quality of feed.