“Don’t eat those Death Caps!” – Mushroom poisoning requiring liver transplantation in Johannesburg
Dr. Harriet Etheredge
Posted on June 11, 2019
Now that I’m a mum I’m all about health and safety. I’m soon going to start digging up my foxgloves and arum lilies and replacing them with edible plants and herbs. In the course of my work I occasionally come across a situation that sets the health and safety alarm bells ringing. These cases really need to be made public – see it as a “public health warning”.
In this situation (see the full academic journal article here), a pregnant mother and her 3-year-old daughter ate poisonous Amanita Phalloides mushrooms picked in a Johannesburg garden. Over the next three days, both mother and daughter developed liver problems and were admitted to various hospitals in the city. The mother ultimately recovered, however she tragically lost her unborn baby. The daughter went into acute liver failure – which is when the liver of a person who was previously healthy stops working very quickly. The daughter required an emergency liver transplant in order to survive, and luckily we were able to find a liver donor for her at our centre.
The mushrooms that were ingested – colloquially known as Death Caps – are extremely toxic; but they look innocent. The person who picked the Death Caps appreciated the dangers of ingesting mushrooms from an unknown source, however was convinced that this particular harvest was not poisonous. This is an easy mistake to make, and even those who spend a lot of time in the garden are probably not exempt. Mushrooms grow more readily during the rainy season, and the toxic effects of mushroom poisoning can be hard to spot because at the beginning the symptoms are pretty generic and it may just look like a tummy bug.
Please make your family aware of the dangers – this includes your kids and your staff. Never eat mushrooms of unknown species or origin, never feed them to your family, friends, acquaintances, pets or anyone else at all. Regularly check your garden for mushroom species, and if you find any, remove them. If you suspect mushroom poisoning, immediately take the patient to the emergency room, and try to collect a sample of the mushroom if possible, which will help with management – but use gloves and pack it carefully. Diligence and vigilance in this setting may just save a life.
As always, this work was done by a fantastic team (of which I am just a small part) across a number of institutions in Johannesburg: Thanks to Angidi Pillay Mauree, Tim De Maayer, Angela Botes, June Fabian, Eleanor Mary Duncan and Jean Botha.
The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions. They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.