Joburg parents' horror as 1-year-old son eats 'deadly' death cap mushroom he found in their garden

By Shanaaz Prince
22 June 2016

It's the most poisonous mushroom in the world – and it’s a common find in South African gardens.

Like any one-year-old, Jamie Parker* loves toddling around in his family's garden at their Johannesburg home.

His parents Sarah and John were happy in the knowledge their little boy was safe and sound in his little sandpit under an oak tree in their backyard.

But this was exactly where their son was playing on one of the scariest days of their lives on 6 May this year.

It was here that Jamie came across a mushroom growing under the tree -- and, being a one-year-old, he put it in his mouth and chewed.

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Realising what had happened, his mom and dad immediately made him spit it out. Not wanting to take any chances, the concerned parents phoned the Poisons Information Helpline based in Cape Town. And thank goodness they did.

“As we are quite worried about these things, we sent the poison centre photos of the mushroom,” Sarah told YOU.

“It turned out to be a mushroom called the death cap. It is the most poisonous mushroom in the world. Half a mushroom can kill an adult if untreated.”

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The frantic parents rushed the little boy to hospital and he was given activated charcoal every four hours for 16 hours and monitored through the night.

“We were incredibly lucky and don't think he ingested any of the mushroom, but was just chewing it,” Sarah says.

“He remained asymptomatic, but as so little is known about this mushroom he needed blood tests for the next week to ensure that his body wasn't being poisoned while being symptom free,” adds Sarah.

The amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the death cap mushroom. PHOTO: Wikipedia The amanita phalloides, more commonly known as the death cap mushroom. PHOTO: Wikipedia

According to Dr Cindy Stephen, director of the Poisons Information Centre at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, the death cap, or Amanita phalloides, contains amatoxin. The extremely poisonous toxin causes severe and often fatal damage to the liver -- making the death cap the most poisonous mushroom known.

It is a white (becoming pale yellow/olive green) mushroom with white gills, a bulbous base (immersed in a cup under the soil), and a ring higher up the stem.

“Mushrooms are very difficult to identify especially as some of the features change as they mature,” says Dr Stephen.

To be sure of the identification, she advises one take a photo of the complete mushroom (stem and cap), with a ruler next to it, from the side, from the top, and from underneath (of the gills) and contact the Poisons Information Helpline (0861 555 777) for help.

The effects of eating the mushroom are typically delayed by about six to 24 hours. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea leading to liver and kidney damage.

Even a small amount (1/4 cap in children or one cap in adults) can cause fatal poisoning and only 50% of those poisoned survive.

Commonly found under oak, pine and poplar trees in summer and autumn, especially after rain, these mushrooms are found widely throughout South Africa.

“Be very vigilant and remove all mushrooms out of the reach of children and pets,” warns Dr Stephen.

“Activated charcoal should be given as soon as possible, preferably by a health professional, in all cases of mushroom ingestion where the identification of the mushroom is unknown.

“In the case of Amanita phalloides, there is no specific antidote, although some therapies are available even though none has reliably proven benefit.  Further doses of activated charcoal and intensive supportive treatment will be given in Amanita phalloides poisoning.”

*Not their real names

  • Call the Poisons Information Helpline (0861 555 777) available 24/7 for advice

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