May 24, 2016

(Sioux City Journal / Dolly Butz)

Going into the woods and foraging for wild mushrooms has grown in popularity in the United States in recent years, but selecting the wrong mushroom could put your health in jeopardy, so be picky.

Tammy Noble, a registered nurse and education coordinator for the Iowa Poison Control Center, said mushroom hunters need to be absolutely sure of the identity of each mushroom that they put in their baskets and their mouths.

"When in doubt, don't eat it," she said.

Calls to the Sioux City-based Iowa Poison Control Center usually increase in April and May after it rains. Noble said calls generally concern young children who ate poisonous mushrooms growing in their yard or mushroom hunters who misidentified and ate a toxic mushroom and developed side effects.

Human exposure calls to poisonous mushrooms have been on the rise in the state over the past five years. The number of calls surged from 47 in 2011 to 105 in 2014. There were 82 calls in 2015. Only one call concerning toxic mushrooms has been recorded this year as of May 9.

"May through September tends to be when we see the most calls," Noble said. "Much of it depends on the temperature and the weather and when the mushrooms are still able to grow."

Each case is managed differently depending on whether the patients is an adult or a child and when and how much poisonous mushroom they ingested. Symptoms may develop immediately, or, in the case of the most toxic mushrooms, not for a couple of hours after consumption.

Although eating a poisonous mushroom can cause liver damage, Noble said nausea and vomiting are more common symptoms. She said consuming some wild mushrooms won't cause any side effects. When mushroom hunters eat too many mushrooms that aren't toxic and get sick, Noble said that further complicates the situation.  "We don't know if they're sick because they ate large quantities of (mushrooms) or did they eat one that isn't a safe one to eat?" she said.

Noble said it's unlikely Iowa Poison Control Center staff would be able to identify over the phone what type of mushroom a child or an adult ate.  "Unless we can see certain patterns of symptoms and the timing of when they have symptoms, then we're more likely to think it may be this class of mushrooms versus a different class of mushroom," she said.

"We can't tell just by someone saying, 'My child ate a mushroom in the lawn.' We just assume for the safety of the person involved that it might be something that's toxic."

In that situation, Noble said Iowa Poison Control Center staff will advise the caller to take the child to an emergency room to receive activated charcoal, which gathers and binds to itself some of the toxins from the mushroom.

If the caller does happen to have a piece of the mushroom that was eaten, Noble said they are advised to store it in a refrigerator. A mycologist who studies fungi can conduct spore testing on the specimen to identify the species of mushroom. But this type of a consultation only happens in the most severe cases, according to Noble.

How to prevent mushroom poisoning

Check outdoor areas frequented by children and pets for mushrooms and remove them.

Teach children all wild mushrooms may be poisonous.

While some edible wild mushrooms, such as the morel, are unmistakable, correctly identifying edible wild mushrooms can be difficult, even with the aid of field guides.

Unless you have been trained to do so, it is recommended people do not pick and eat wild mushrooms.

Contact the poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 if a child is known to have eaten a mushroom or if someone has become ill after picking and eating wild mushrooms.

-- Iowa Poison Control Center

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