Police are investigating after three people died from suspected mushroom poisoning in Australia.

Four people were taken to the hospital on July 30 after they became ill following a meal at a house in Leongatha, a town in the state of Victoria, the previous day.

Two women, aged 66 and 70, died in the hospital on Aug. 4. A third person, a 70-year-old man, died in the hospital on Aug. 5. A 68-year-old man remains in the hospital in a critical condition.

Don and Gail Patterson and her sister Heather Wilkinson died from symptoms consistent with death cap mushroom poisoning, according to media reports. Ian Wilkinson is the patient still in hospital.  

Investigators from Victoria police executed a search warrant at a residence in Leongatha. Detectives also interviewed a 48-year-old woman who was released pending further enquiries.

Local media said the suspect, Erin Patterson, was the daughter-in-law of the couple who died.

An investigation surrounding the exact circumstances of the incident is ongoing and police are working with the Victorian Department of Health.

Poisonous mushroom risk
In April this year, the Victorian Department of Health warned that eating just one death cap mushroom may kill an adult. Poisonous mushrooms, including death caps, occur in Victoria during autumn, as the weather becomes wetter and cooler.

Cooking, peeling or drying these mushrooms does not remove the poison. There is no home test available to distinguish safe and edible mushrooms from poisonous types.

Symptoms of poisoning can include violent stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and usually occur six to 24 hours after eating the mushrooms. Even if initial symptoms subside serious liver damage may have occurred.

People should urgently attend an emergency department if they believe they’ve eaten a poisonous mushroom and take any remaining mushrooms with them for identification.

The Food Safety Information Council regularly warns people to be extremely careful around wild mushrooms because of the poisoning risk.

In April 2022, a young child was hospitalized in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) after consuming a death cap mushroom. In 2012, two people died after eating these mushrooms at a New Year’s Eve party in Canberra and in 2014 four people in the ACT were seriously poisoned.

“Death cap mushrooms can appear at any time of year but are more common a week or two after good rains. They have been found in the Canberra region, in and around Melbourne, in Tasmania and in Adelaide. They are not native to Australia and are often found near oak trees growing in warm wet weather,” said Cathy Moir.

“Death cap mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from some other wild mushrooms so we recommend you play it safe and only eat mushrooms that you have purchased from a supermarket, greengrocer or other reputable source.”

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