In California, last year, a bumper crop of death cap mushrooms that grew wild resulted in 14 foragers getting poisoned, according to a report released on Friday. Three people who ate the death cap mushrooms, not realizing what kind they actually were, required liver transplants. One of them was a toddler of 18 months. She also suffered permanent neurological damage, including brain damage, from consuming the fungus, which is called the world’s most dangerous mushroom.
The Washington Post reported that, though the 14 people poisoned from eating death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) were poisoned during a two-week period in December 2016, a report about why so many people were poisoned by them was just released on Friday, June 2 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report was compiled by doctors in Northern California.
According to KTLA 5, fungus hunters in the greater San Francisco Bay area had their first indication that there might be trouble ahead in November, when they came across “a large bloom” of the toxic mushrooms. The 14 people who became ill after eating death cap mushrooms consumed ones that were foraged from where they grew on mountains in Northern California.
The relatively high number of cases in such a short period of time alarmed the doctors, because normally, there are only a few cases of people poisoned from eating the mushrooms per year in the state. The death cap mushrooms, according to the Washington Post, are often “abundant” during the “wet winter months” in California. The report released on Friday said that in December 2016, the mushrooms “flourished” due to warm weather that followed “early rainfall.”
The report also cautions anyone out gathering or buying mushrooms collected in the wild should be careful before consuming them and have them examined and identified by “a mycologist (mushroom expert).”
According to CBS News, Dr. Kathy Vo, employed in San Francisco at the University of California in the department of emergency medicine, wrote that foragers who are inexperienced should not try their hand at collecting and eating mushrooms found in the wild. Many mushrooms look similar to each other, which can make identifying them difficult for foragers who are inexperienced.
Besides the contribution that early winter rainfall followed by a few days of warmer temperatures made to the proliferation of death cap mushrooms in California, there were likely also more cases of people being poisoned from eating the mushrooms than normal last year because of an increase in wild-crafting and amateur foraging. Vo’s team defined wild-crafting as collecting plants or parts of plants for medicinal or food purposes.
Initial symptoms of death cap mushroom poisoning are vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Those symptoms often result in the victim getting dehydrated and then experiencing liver damage. It does not take eating very much of even one death cap mushroom to cause the symptoms.
The CDC report compiled by the Northern California doctors mentioned in one of the 14 cases, a 37-year-old man was spent six days in a hospital after he ate just one death cap mushroom he had picked in Santa Rosa, California.
In the case of the 18-month-old girl, she just nibbled on just half of a mushroom cap her mother had given her. Her mother got the death cap mushroom from a stranger who said he had picked the mushrooms that morning in the mountains. Four others became ill from eating those mushrooms for dinner, the young girl’s parents and two other adults who ate with them.
A treatment being used in Europe for death cap mushroom poisoning has proven to be fairly successful. Patients there are given intravenous silibinin. The CDC report mentioned that in the United States, the effectiveness of the treatment is now “being tested in clinical trials.”
Factors ranging from rainy weather followed by warmer weather, to an increase in foraging plants from the wild last year, resulted in 14 cases of people being poisoned from eating death cap mushrooms in the greater San Francisco Bay area in California. In three of the poisoning cases, people who ate the mushrooms had to have liver transplants. Identifying mushrooms that are safe to eat can be difficult and is best left to experts.
By John Samuels