…but there are no old, bold mushroom pickers.”
By Tony, Connie and Carol
Q. What does days and days of heavy rain, plus humid weather, plus cloudy skies equal?
A. Shrooms, man, shrooms.
Just as the weather has been conducive to mushroom growth and multiplication, the IPC has experienced a spike in calls concerning mushroom ingestions. Over the past 5 years, the IPC typically averages 7 mushroom cases per week, May through September (also known as “shroom season”), but this year we’ve handled an average of 12 cases per week in late May and early June. That’s almost double the usual number!
Most mushroom calls to the IPC involve small children who become intrigued by the appearance of little brown mushrooms sprouting in the lawn, playground or field. Fortunately, most of these accidental poisonings do not result in serious complications; most often because the species was non-toxic or the quantity ingested was minimal. More concerning however, are the less common situations where an individual or entire family consumes a meal prepared with collected wild mushrooms they believed to be edible but in reality are poisonous.
There are approximately 5,000 species of mushrooms, and only 200-300 of which are known to be safely edible. Most mushroom poisonings cause symptoms of stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A few may cause potentially fatal liver and kidney damage (such as the ‘death cap’ and ‘the deadly webcap’). One mushroom, known as the ‘inky cap’ only makes a person ill when alcoholic beverages are consumed with the mushroom (known as a disulfiram reaction). Another common, deliberately ingested mushroom is Chlorophyllum molybdites. Due to its large size (about the size of a portabella mushroom) and fleshy appearance, it is occasionally picked and eaten. Poisoning by C. molybdites causes symptoms of intense vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain which occurs within 2-3 hours of ingestion. In severe cases, hydration with IV fluids may be necessary.
Q: So, how do you prevent a mushroom poisoning?
The most reliable thing to do is inspect your lawn and garden for wild mushrooms, pluck and then discard them. Do this before letting toddlers and pets outdoors. Avoid becoming the victim of a mushroom-meal-gone-bad by only consuming mushrooms from reliable sources (such as the grocery store), NOT by foraging and picking them in the wild yourself. Many toxic mushrooms strongly resemble edible mushrooms and even PhD mycologists can have trouble telling some apart without their microscopes. Below are the morel (a delicious delicacy) on the left and the false morel, (known as Gyromitra, which contains a toxic substance that causes severe, intractable seizures) on the right. Notice how similar they look. Remember the old saying, “there are old mushroom pickers, and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are no old, bold mushroom pickers”.
If a mushroom poisoning should occur, the specialists at the IPC can help. IPC can usually rule out the few most dangerous types of mushrooms by simply asking questions about the physical characteristics of the ingested mushroom. A digital image may also be emailed to the IPC and with the aid of expert mycologists around the state, the sample can be identifed. Whether it is mushrooms, plants, cleaners, drugs, bugs, or anything else, call the IPC 24/7/365 (1800-222-1222) to help with any poisoning emergency.