Deadly Fungi

Adding to the over-all theme of death that permeates the month of October leading to the celebration of the dead, I thought a post about various deadly fungi would be in order.

First on the list is Podostroma cornu-damae, a toxic fungus found in Japan. The symptoms include stomach pains, changes in perception, peeling skin on the face, hair loss, shrinking of the cerebellum which causes speech impediments and problems with voluntary movement. While many people have died after consuming the fruit body of this fungus, it is possible to survive if steps are taken swiftly.

Next is Amanita bisporigera, or destroying angel, found in Eastern North America and down into Mexico. Poisoning from this fungus comes in stages. The first stage, incubation, 6-12 hours after ingestion, is asymptomatic. Stage two is the gastrointestinal stage which there is onset of explosive vomiting, diarrhea for up to 24 hours leading to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and shock. The third and final stage is the cytotoxic stage where liver damage becomes evident and later, kidney failure.

Galerina marginata, commonly known as autumn’s skullcap,  is a wide-spread fungus found in many different areas of the world: North America, Europe, Japan, Iran, continental Asia and the Caucasus. The toxins found within the Galerina marginata are known as amatoxins which affect the liver primarily and can also affect kidneys. As with most poisonings, the characteristics of the autumn’s skullcap is of the classic variety: severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea lasting for 6 to 9 hours. Soon after, the liver is affected causing gastro-intestinal bleeding, coma, kidney failure and even death. All of which occurs within 7 days of consumption.

Amanita phalloides, also known as death cap, is a fungus that’s found across Europe. This particular mushroom is responsible for the majority of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide. The reportedly pleasant taste of death caps combined with the delay in appearance of symptoms – during which time internal organs are often irreparably damaged – is part of the reason why deaths are so common from it. Two or three days after ingestion, the victim will suffer colicky abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting leading to dehydration and, in severe cases, hypotension, tachycardia and hypoglycemia. Liver failure quickly follows and if the hospitalized victim can recover enough, a liver transplant is usually required. Life threatening symptoms include intra-cranial pressure, intra-cranial hemorrhage, acute renal failure and cardiac arrest.

Lastly on this short list is Amanita verna, also known as fool’s mushroom. Like the death cap, it is one of the most poisonous mushrooms on Earth. The symptoms of a poisoning from the fool’s mushroom mirrors that of the death cap as well. In both cases, as little as 1 oz. will bring on these dire and deadly symptoms. However, death ultimately depends on the size of the individual who consumed the ‘shroom.

If any of your Halloween adventures take you into wooded areas, it’s best not to pick up anything and eat it. If a child happens to drop a piece of candy on the ground, tell them to leave it there. Some of these mushrooms’ affects can be felt just by touching them and then licking your finger.