Last Friday, two elderly nursing home residents in California died after eating soup made with wild mushrooms.
Just a few weeks before that, an entire Connecticut family was almost knocked out by a dish of wild mushrooms, onions, garlic, and green chili peppers. They were saved only by the timely administration of charcoal and an experimental drug.
What makes these recent cases particularly tragic is that they were prompted by the very best intentions: someone wanting to prepare a special meal for someone else. Unfortunately, good intentions can't compensate for a lack of fungi awareness.
Of the over 10,000 species of mushrooms, only about 50 to 100 are toxic. About 6,000 Americans each year end up eating them. Over half of those cases involve unsupervised small children. So if you're considering treating that special person in your life to a wild mushroom-based dish, take the following into consideration:
- Over 90 percent of deaths, including these most recent ones, are caused by amatoxins. Take a moment to reflect on the four stages of Amanitin poisoning, courtesy of the North American Mycological Association:
- Stage 1: A latency period of 6 to 24 hours after ingestion, in which the toxins are actively destroying the victim's kidneys and liver, but the victim experiences no discomfort.
- Stage 2: A period of about 24 hours characterized by violent vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and severe abdominal cramps.
- Stage 3: A period of 24 hours during which the victim appears to recover (if hospitalized, the patient is sometimes released!)
- Stage 4: Relapse, during which kidney and liver failure often occurs, leading to death. Patients may also "bleed out" and die due to the destruction of clotting factors in the blood. There may be more than one relapse.
Your chance of surviving all this is about 50/50.