Konzo and continuing cyanide intoxication from cassava in Mozambique

Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Mar;49(3):631-5. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2010.06.056. Epub 2010 Jul 21.


In Mozambique, epidemics of the cassava-associated paralytic disease, konzo, have been reported in association with drought or war: over 1100 cases in 1981, over 600 cases in 1992-1993, and over 100 cases in 2005. Smaller epidemics and sporadic cases have also been reported. Large epidemics have occurred at times of agricultural crisis, during the cassava harvest, when the population has been dependent on a diet of insufficiently processed bitter cassava. Konzo mostly affects women of child-bearing age and children over 2 years of age. When measured, serum or urinary thiocyanate concentrations, indicative of cyanide poisoning, have been high in konzo patients during epidemics and in succeeding years. Monitoring of urinary thiocyanate concentrations in schoolchildren in konzo areas has shown persistently high concentrations at the time of the cassava harvest. Inorganic sulphate concentrations have been low during and soon after epidemics. Programmes to prevent konzo have focused on distributing less toxic varieties of cassava and disseminating new processing methods, such as grating and the flour wetting method. Attention should be given to the wider question of agricultural development and food security in the regions of Africa where dependence on bitter cassava results in chronic cyanide intoxication and persistent and emerging konzo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cyanides / toxicity*
  • Diet*
  • Epidemics
  • Female
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Manihot / poisoning*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / epidemiology*
  • Mozambique / epidemiology
  • Thiocyanates / toxicity
  • Thiocyanates / urine


  • Cyanides
  • Thiocyanates
  • thiocyanate