Death cap mushrooms foraged in Northern California have severely poisoned 14 people in the last few months, three so seriously that they needed liver transplants. One victim is a toddler who will have “permanent neurological impairment,” according to a medical report.
The high number of poisonings has alarmed officials. The mushrooms, often mistaken for a benign variety, have flourished this year in heavy rains. Mushroom experts first noticed a particularly large bloom of death caps in November.
News of the string of poisonings that began in December came to light this week in a “Morbidity and Mortality” report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Besides the toddler, ages of the victims ranged from 19 to 93 years old, according to the CDC statistics. The poisonings occurred in five counties, and hospital stays ranged from six to 36 days.
The worst case involved an entire family in Salinas. A woman who was given the mushrooms by a forager cooked them for herself, her husband, her 18-month-old daughter, her sister and a friend. They all became ill, and the toddler and the woman’s sister needed liver transplants. “It was like a bus accident happening right in front of the hospital,” Dr. Todd Mitchell told The Santa Cruz Sentinel as he described the life-and-death demands of treating mushroom poisoning.
Mitchell, one of the authors of the CDC report, is conducting a clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of a treatment protocol.
The Amanita phalloides is one of the deadliest mushrooms on Earth and is responsible for 90 percent of mushroom poisonings around the world. Once the mushroom’s amatoxin is ingested, it begins to kill cells, eventually shutting down organs.
The mushrooms are most abundant during rainy fall and winter months, but they can survive throughout the year in coastal fog in California. The CDC report urges extreme caution when hunting for wild mushrooms, adding that “inexperienced foragers should be strongly discouraged from eating any wild mushrooms.”
The mushrooms are a serious threat in remote areas around the globe where medical help is too far for quick treatment.
“These mushrooms continue to wipe out entire families each and every year in Nepal, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and India as well as China,” Mitchell told the Sentinel. “Amatoxin mushroom poisoning is an unrecognized worldwide public health crisis. Literally, hundreds die every single year.”