Delaware Valley poison control experts caution against eating wild mushrooms after recent hospitalizations

An up-close view of wild mushrooms.

In this image taken with a fisheye lens, wild mushrooms growing in a field under a sky full of broken clouds on a warm fall afternoon, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Fall season can be a great time to get outside and forage for mushrooms, but it can come with some risks.

“It is easy to underestimate misidentifying a poisonous mushroom for an edible mushroom,” said Dr. Robert Bassett.

Bassett is associate medical director of the region’s Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which serves about 9 million people in eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Experts at the control center have noted a local uptick in cases of mushroom poisonings, mostly in adults who’ve consumed wild mushrooms, and they’re warning people to be careful.

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“If you develop any symptoms, any physical symptoms after consuming mushrooms, I would seek medical attention immediately,” Bassett said.

The poison control center reported about 12 mushroom poison cases in the past month, which Bassett said isn’t overly alarming, but it is more than usual at this time of year. What’s more concerning, he said, is the severity of some of the cases.

More than half of those cases resulted in hospitalization, and half of those patients wound up in an intensive care unit. At least one person suffered organ failure and needed a transplant.

“There are so many different species of mushrooms with wide-ranging impact on health effects,” Bassett said. “Some of them we would consider toxic, because they can cause mild gastrointestinal distress, but are really not very dangerous.”

However, the more poisonous kinds can also cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, seizures, and impaired thinking, if they have psychedelic qualities.

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Rare consequences of ingesting a poisonous mushroom include organ failure and death.

Experts recommend that if people are going to go out and pick wild mushrooms, they at least consult a mycologist, someone who works with and studies fungi, before eating the mushrooms.

Bassett said it’s also a good idea to document what kind of mushrooms are being eaten and the timing of ingestion, as there can sometimes be a delay in symptoms with some types of mushroom.

“Take a picture of it. Take a picture of the top, take a picture of the bottom, take a picture from multiple angles to give us the best chance to identify it if it turns out that it’s starting to cause illness,” Bassett said.

If you suspect a poisoning, call the National Poison Control Center hotline at 1-800-222-1222 to be connected with experts at the nearest regional center.

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