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Authorities urge caution when hunting, eating wild mushrooms

Amanita phalloides, or “death cap,” mushrooms can cause serious illness and sometimes death. Courtesy photo

As seasonal rains promote the growth of wild mushrooms, California Department of Public Health Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith is again reminding people that eating wild mushrooms can cause serious illness and even death.

Unseasonably warm, wet weather in other areas of the country is also prompting mushroom growth where frozen ground and snow are the norm for February.

“Telling the difference between wild mushrooms that are safe and those that are poisonous can be difficult for many people,” Smith said in a news release earlier this week. “Wild mushrooms should not be eaten unless they have been examined by a mushroom expert and determined to be edible.”

The most serious illnesses and deaths have been linked primarily to wild mushrooms known to cause liver damage, including Amanita phalloides, which are also known as the “death cap,” and Amanita ocreata, known as “destroying angel.” A bloom of Amanita phalloides in winter 2017 resulted in 14 mushroom poisonings in California that required hospitalization. Three of the people needed a liver transplants.

According to the California Poison Control System, 1,038 cases of poisonous mushroom ingestion were reported throughout the state from November 2016 to Jan. 15, 2018. Among those cases:

  • 16 suffered major health problems, such as liver failure leading to coma and/or a liver transplant, or kidney failure requiring dialysis.
  • 51 suffered moderate health problems, such as dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea, or injury to the liver or kidney.
  • 433 were children younger than 6, most of whom ate a small amount of a mushroom from yards or neighborhood parks.
  • 522 were treated at health care facilities.
  • 16 were admitted to intensive care units.

Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage or death. Anyone who develops symptoms after eating wild mushrooms should seek immediate medical attention. People in California who develop these symptoms, or their treating health care providers, should immediately contact the state’s Poison Control System at 800-222-1222.

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