In May 1981 a new disease, with epidemic characteristics, appeared in Spain. Initially it was thought that an infectious agent was responsible for the disease, a theory that was later discarded when the disease was found to be associated with the ingestion of adulterated olive oil contaminated with potentially toxic chemicals. More than 20 000 people have been affected, and whilst official reports put the death toll at 250, the true figure may exceed 300. The disease is multi-systemic in presentation, affecting several organs and systems of the body. The disease has a poor prognosis in its chronic stages, which affect approximately 10% of victims, and its ultimate natural history is still to be observed. The pathogenesis of the disease remains to be elucidated, despite considerable efforts already made in this direction.
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