Outbreaks of pithomycotoxicosis (facial eczema), a hepatogenous photosensitisation caused by the mycotoxin sporidesmin, have affected ruminants in the Azores Islands of Portugal after warm, humid periods during late summer and autumn. Twenty-two outbreaks were recorded in cattle between 1999 and 2001, affecting 11·4 per cent of the animals in the affected herds, and in 2000 there was an outbreak in one sheep flock in which more than 20 per cent of the sheep died. The clinical signs included decreases in milk production, weight loss, photosensitisation and its sequelae, including death. The animals had high activities of gamma glutamyltransferase in their serum, and icterus and severe liver disease, including biliary hyperplasia and fibrosis, were found postmortem. The characteristic spores of the toxigenic saprophytic fungus Pithomyces chartarum were found on grass; all 381 isolates of the fungus were toxigenic for sporidesmin by ELISA, and the results were confirmed by high-performance liquid chromatography analysis. Cattle from farms at greatest risk of pithomycotoxicosis were protected by supplementing their concentrate feed with zinc oxide, or using a slow-release intraruminal zinc bolus.
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