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Wild mushrooms may be poisonous


In October 2016, a three-year old on Vancouver Island died after eating a poisonous mushroom that was harvested in downtown Victoria. Mycological examinations suggest the little boy ingested the Amanita phalloides, also known as the death cap mushroom. 

In recent days, media reports have indicated death cap mushrooms are again emerging in the Victoria area. Death cap mushrooms are also known to grow in other areas of the province including Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Amanita phalloides was introduced to BC through imported trees.  These mushrooms are most often found in urban areas and not in the forest. California recently reported 14 cases of A. phalloides poisoning, with three people requiring a liver transplant.

Environmental health experts at the BC Centre for Disease Control are working with health authorities on this emerging urban environmental threat and have assembled the following general information about wild poisonous mushrooms.

Are wild mushrooms poisonous? 

Some are. About 250 species of wild mushrooms found in North America are poisonous. Many more can cause varying degrees of adverse health effects. The BC Drug & Poison Information Centre reports on average 200 calls per year related to wild mushroom exposures. Over one-quarter of the calls (27%) resulted in moderate, severe, or potential toxic illnesses.

What are the symptoms? 

Mushroom poisonings may cause: nausea, vomiting, liver failure, hallucinations, seizure, coma, kidney failure, and death. The severity of attack depends upon the type of mushroom, the amount consumed and sometimes the susceptibility of the individual to the poison.

What should I do if I or my child has eaten a poisonous wild mushroom? 

Phone the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre: 604.682.5050 or toll free at 1.800.567.8911 

Teenagers and adults, however, exposed to a larger amount of TOXIC mushrooms from either trying to get high or harvesting and eating the wrong types of mushrooms accounted for 85% of the more severe illnesses. Remove the mushroom from the child’s mouth and hands. Keep the leftover mushroom, or find a similar type for identification when describing it to poison information specialists. They can advise you on first aid treatment and whether you need to seek out immediate medical help.

How do I protect myself? 

Buy mushrooms from a retail store that receives their mushrooms from a commercial grower. This is the surest way to ensure your safety. Be cautious about buying wild mushrooms from street vendors, farmers markets, non-approved retailers or other sources that cannot verify their knowledge and source of the mushrooms. Selling wild mushrooms is an unregulated industry in Canada.  Don’t water your lawn during the summer.  The excess moisture allows mushrooms to grow.

How do I protect my children and pets? 

This isn't easy. Young children tend to put anything and everything in their mouths. Check outdoor play areas and remove any mushrooms before allowing the children to play outside. Talk to teenagers about the dangers of ingesting wild mushrooms to get high – and what to do if someone has a bad reaction.  Don’t allow your dogs to eat any mushrooms they may find during a walk.

Harvesting your own wild mushrooms?

In some cases identifying the poisonous species is difficult even for the experts. So, only harvest wild mushrooms if you are absolutely certain they are safe. Be prepared to identify the mushrooms with the help of a good field guide or knowledgeable friend. Store harvested mushrooms in paper (not plastic) bags at cool temperatures. Become knowledgeable with regards to mushroom terminology and take no risks when harvesting a mushroom for consumption. Should a mushroom not match even one of the characteristics listed in your field guide for an edible species, don't eat it. You also cannot identify poisonous mushrooms by taste or smell − it has been reported that some poisonous mushrooms actually taste good!  Only eat a small amount of the mushrooms, sometimes even edible wild mushrooms can cause an upset stomach.

Are pictures useful? 

Only to a limited extent. Edible mushrooms may have poisonous look-a-likes, and many species have yet to be identified. In some poisonings, patients have stated that the mushroom looked like the picture of an edible mushroom. 

For more, see the fact sheet and news release.

Story originally posted on PHSA, written by Lorraine Mcintyre, Food Safety Specialist

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