The Food Safety Information Council has warned people in Australia not to pick or eat wild mushrooms following a number of poisoning cases.

Eight people were recently hospitalized in New South Wales due to wild mushroom poisoning. Almost 40 calls were made to the NSW Poisons Information Centre in the past week and last year in the state 70 people were admitted to hospital.

Australian poisons information centers received almost 900 calls about possible wild mushroom poisoning in 12 months and a third were referred to a hospital or for medical treatment.

Since 2002, four people have died after eating death cap mushrooms found in the Australian Capital Territory. In 2012, two people died after eating these mushrooms at a New Year’s Eve dinner party in Canberra, and in 2014 four people were seriously poisoned.

Death cap mushroom

Cathy Moir, FSIC council chair, said that foraging for wild food is becoming popular but gathering wild mushrooms can be a life-threatening risk.

“While this latest spate of wild mushroom poisonings weren’t from death cap mushrooms be aware that the poison in one death cap mushroom if eaten, is enough to kill a healthy adult.”

Death cap mushrooms can appear at any time of year but are more common during autumn after a period of rain.

“They are not native to Australia and are often found near oak trees growing in warm wet weather. The similar marbled death cap mushrooms have also been recently found in Western Australia, although they may not be as toxic,” said Moir.

“Death cap mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from other wild mushrooms so we recommend you play it safe and only eat mushrooms that you have purchased from the supermarket, greengrocer or other reputable sources. People born overseas, especially in Asian countries, should be aware that these deadly mushrooms can look like edible mushrooms that they may have gathered in their home countries.”

ACT and Victoria alerts

Last month, Dr. Kerryn Coleman, acting Australian Capital Territory chief health officer, warned people not to eat or pick wild mushrooms.

Dr. Coleman said it was the first time death cap mushrooms had been seen in Canberra this year, marking the start of the cooler weather season.

“Death cap mushrooms can be lethal if ingested. It is crucial for people to understand that all parts of the mushroom are poisonous and cooking them does not make them safe to eat.”

Dr. Coleman warned people not to touch the mushroom with bare hands and to keep children and animals away from it.

“If you think you have eaten a death cap mushroom, seek urgent medical attention at a hospital emergency department and take any remaining mushroom to the hospital for identification,” she said.

“Symptoms of poisoning generally occur six to 24 hours or more after eating mushrooms and include pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of survival.”

The toxin in death cap mushrooms is not destroyed by peeling, cooking or drying. Symptoms may ease for two to three days before a terminal phase of three to four days begins. Without effective medical intervention, people may go into a coma and die after two or three weeks of liver and kidney failure.

Nine out of ten deaths from mushroom poisoning in Australia result from death caps said Moir.

“However there are other wild mushrooms in Australia that, while not fatal, can make you ill with abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. These include the yellow stainer which resembles a field mushroom and is the most commonly ingested poisonous mushroom in Victoria.”

Dr. Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, issued a warning this month for people to avoid gathering wild mushrooms around Melbourne and in rural Victoria.

“Autumn conditions create ideal growing conditions for poisonous mushrooms, and recent rains have seen them start to sprout in Victoria. While commercially-sold mushrooms are safe, poisonings can occur when people gathering wild mushrooms inadvertently include toxic species. Poisonous mushrooms may appear very similar to edible varieties.”

Two toxic mushrooms are the Death Cap fungus, Amanita phalloides and the Yellow Staining mushroom, Agaricus xanthodermus.

The Death Cap is large, with a cap ranging from light olive green to greenish yellow in color. The gills are white and the base of the stem is surrounded by a cup-shaped sac. The commonly found Yellow Staining mushroom turns yellow when the cap or stem is bruised by a thumbnail.

In Hong Kong, The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) is investigating a food poisoning outbreak related to the consumption of wild mushrooms.

Three women aged 36 to 45 developed abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and sweating 30 minutes after consuming wild mushrooms at home. They were admitted to hospital on the same day but remained in a stable condition and have been discharged.

Investigations revealed the wild mushrooms were picked near Bowen Road on Hong Kong Island.

Late last year, French authorities issued a warning after a spike in poisoning cases.

From July to mid-October, poison control centers recorded between five and 60 cases a week but 249 poisoning cases were recorded in early November. Every year, one thousand cases of mushroom poisoning occur in France.

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