LSU Examines Accidental Field Mushroom Ingestions by Children

Dr. James Diaz, professor and director of environmental and occupational health Sciences at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-New Orleans, School of Public Health, authored “Colorful Mushroom Ingestion”.  The article was published online ahead of print in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric mushroom, typifies the iconic image of colorful mushrooms both in legend as toadstools for gnomes and leprechauns and in literature as hallucinogens in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865). Known as the bug or fly mushroom in the Middle Ages, pieces of the mushroom’s cap were sprinkled into milk to make insecticides to kill flies. With a bright red-to-reddish-orange cap and frequent cartoon appearances (in the Smurfs and others), Amanita muscaria also attracts children, and ingestions of even small bites of the cap have caused severe neurotoxicity with respiratory arrest. Fatalities are rare, but possible, especially in children without immediate access to intensive care. In a 2011 5-year, retrospective population-based study of mushroom exposure calls to the Florida Poison Information Center Network, there were 1,355 exposure calls and 428 poisonings with nearly half in children less than six years of age (45 percent). Most calls occurred in route to healthcare facilities (43 percent). Most cases were managed in an emergency department (71 percent). Fortunately, there were no deaths (Kintziger KW, et al. Public Health Reports 2011; 126: 844-52).

Dr. Diaz is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a board-certified medical toxicologist, and an expert on poisonous animals, insects, plants, and mushrooms. He recommends taking cell phone-photos of any remnants of field mushrooms accidently ingested (or vomited) by a child and forwarding the photos by text or email immediately to the state poison control center for instructions. Although most accidental field mushroom ingestions are non-fatal and may cause self-limited abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting; some can be fatal.