Fall is a great time of year; color changes on the leaves, brisk cool breezes, and the smell of newly lit fireplaces on evening walks. Here in Illinois, many people spend autumn Sunday’s watching football or carving pumpkins as part of their fall rituals. Fall is also the time of year when many cases of severe mushroom poisoning may occur in North America. In the past few weeks, the media has reported multiple incidents of people being harmed by wild mushrooms.
In the beginning of October, four people were sickened in Ohio after eating chicken cacciatore made with fresh wild mushrooms that were picked in a wooded area near a golf course.
In Connecticut, a family shared a meal of freshly picked mushrooms from the back- yard; they were served stir-fried with onions, garlic and chili-peppers. It was a fabulously tasty meal by all accounts. Unfortunately the next day, several family members developed abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, severe enough to seek medical attention.
In both of these incidents, the ingested mushrooms were of the Amanita species, specifically Amanita bisporigera. These mushrooms are often found growing under trees in wooded areas and tend to appear in summer and early fall. They are commonly found in eastern North America, but are also found in mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states; however they are relatively rare in western North America.
Symptoms one may experience after ingesting these mushrooms are typically delayed and start with nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. These gastrointestinal symptoms will go away for a day or so, but then the patient may develop liver injury soon after. If the liver injury progresses to liver failure, the patient may need a liver transplant to save their life.
A new antidote, Silibinin is approved in Europe and is currently undergoing clinical trials here in the U.S. Poison centers around the country are often called on these cases and coordinate the transfer of the antidote to the point of care. In both of the above cases, the most severely poisoned patients received this potentially liver and life-saving antidote.
Poison center staff members are always excited to assist people and helping obtain experimental antidotes to save a life takes it to a new level. But if we had our druthers, we all know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
So the next time you are at a friend’s house and the choice is wild picked mushroom in a spicy stir fry or a tasty tomato sauce, I would recommend sticking to the non-mushroom dishes; there are plenty of other fall delights to enjoy.