Deadly mushrooms spark urgent warning from NSW health authorities
A spike in NSW emergency department admissions and helpline calls for assistance after people have eaten poisonous mushrooms has prompted a new winter warning from authorities.
Consumption of death cap mushrooms has sent 14 people to seek emergency treatment in the state in less than a month.
NSW emergency departments were presented with 14 people poisoned by wild mushrooms in the period from April 29 to May 19, nine of whom presented last week alone, a spokesperson from NSW Health told 7NEWS.com.au.
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Three of those patients required hospital admission.
The NSW Poisons Information Centre also received 56 calls regarding mushroom exposures.
Of those calls, 37 cases were related to foraging or mushrooms being ingested for recreational purposes.
Death cap mushrooms, if consumed, can result in potentially fatal organ damage.
There are some poisonous mushrooms in Australia that look similar to edible wild mushrooms from Europe and Asia, and changes in the appearance of mushrooms during the life cycle make them difficult to identify.
“People from overseas, especially in Asian countries, should be aware that these deadly mushrooms can look like edible mushrooms they may have gathered in their home countries,” Food Safety Information Council chair Cathy Moir said in a statement.
NSW Poisons Information Centre senior specialist in poisons information Genevieve Adamo said that constant moisture from prolonged wet weather in NSW is causing an extended mushroom season.
“During a wet summer like this one, fruiting has occurred much earlier,” Moir said.
“The dampness provides excellent growing conditions for wild mushrooms, but it is often difficult to recognise edible from poisonous mushrooms,” Adamo said in a statement on Monday.
“If not properly identified, mushrooms picked in the wild can make you very ill and could be lethal.
“There is no reliable way to identify mushrooms picked in the wild, so it’s best to completely avoid picking or eating wild mushrooms. It is simply not worth the risk.”
“Cooking or boiling wild mushrooms also does not make them safe to eat, which is why we recommend people to only eat store-bought mushrooms.”
“The toxin in death cap mushrooms is not destroyed by peeling, cooking or drying,” Moir said.
“In 2012 two people died after eating the deadly mushrooms at a New Year’s Eve dinner party,” she added.
Check your yard
NSW Health is warning parents to check their yard for mushrooms before allowing their children to play in the yard, to avoid accidental exposure.
Moir said in 2020, a third of the 549 calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre for poisonous mushroom exposure were regarding accidental exposure in children under five.
“Remember that small children have a natural inclination to put things in their mouths so keep an eye on them when outdoors,” she said.
“Regularly check outdoor areas and gardens for mushrooms and remove them to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning. This will also protect your pets.”
A warning for mushroom growers
People who grow their own mushrooms at home are warned to use “a reputable mushroom growing kit” rather than collecting wild spores, and to “make sure the growing medium is sterilised”.
“This will make sure you do not accidentally grow poisonous mushrooms.”
Poisonous mushrooms commonly cause nausea and vomiting but can also lead to liver and kidney damage.
Symptoms can be delayed but early treatment is vital.
“Vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps … usually appear six to 24 hours after eating,” Moir said.
“These symptoms may ease for two to three days before a terminal phase of three to four days begins.
“Without early, effective medical intervention, people may go into a coma and die after two or three weeks of liver and kidney failure.”