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L.A. school garden closed after children sickened by mushroom

Several Los Angeles children were sickened last week after sampling a toxic mushroom growing in a community garden at their neighborhood school. At least two of them, including a 10-year-old boy, were taken to a local hospital for treatment, and the garden is now closed.

The culprit was identified as Amanita pantherina, or Panther cap mushroom, which a worker reportedly gave the children to try Sept. 21 while guiding them through the garden at Micheltorena Elementary School in the Silver Lake neighborhood.

Amanita pantherina mushroom

The Amanita pantherina, or Panther cap mushroom, is considered toxic but normally not deadly.

Officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District were not providing a specific number of illnesses linked to the mushroom due to differing reports. However, most of the sickened children were back in school on Wednesday, according to Monica Carazo, a school district spokesperson.

Principal Nichole Sakellarion held two meetings in the Micheltorena auditorium on Tuesday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to discuss the incident with parents and other concerned members of the public. Automated phone messages were also sent out to inform parents of what had happened.

District Superintendent Michelle King issued a statement Friday noting that the district’s environmental health and safety team is investigating the matter.

“In addition, in an abundance of caution, I have directed our safety team to inspect every District garden for potential hazards,” she said. There are more than 100 local school gardens in LA.

The Micheltorena community garden was installed in November 2010 to replace a parking lot on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Micheltorena Street in Silver Lake. The garden had been hosting classes on Wednesdays during the school year and community potlucks on Thursday evenings, and it was open to the public on Saturdays.

Very few of the estimated 10,000 mushroom species in North America are considered poisonous, although proper identification is not an easy task. The consequences of ingesting one of the toxic variety can include gastrointestinal irritation, along with difficulty walking, speaking or breathing, and a decline in mental alertness. Some can even be fatal.

“The symptoms usually appear within 20 minutes to 4 hours of ingesting the mushrooms, and include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, which normally pass after the irritant has been flushed out by the body,” according to a LA school district safety alert issued Monday.

The school district recommends that people remove wild mushrooms found on school campuses and dispose of them in the trash and to closely supervise small children in areas where mushrooms are present.

Mycologists consider the Panther cap mushroom toxic but normally not deadly. It contains the psychoactive compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol. Because the species tends to grow beneath Monterey pines, it can often be found in urban parks in the San Francisco Bay area.

Experts advise teaching children not to eat wild mushrooms or plants while playing outdoors. Anyone who suspects that a child, or anyone, has eaten a wild mushroom is advised to call the national poison control number at 800-222-1222, contact a health care provider, or go to the nearest emergency department.

They also recommend collecting a sample of the mushroom the individual may have eaten and take it along to assist with identification.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nine cases of mushroom poisoning in January 1997 in northern California involving the Amanita phalloides (death cap) mushroom species. All nine people were hospitalized, and two of them died.

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