Whistler woman poisoned by toxic mushroom 

It's the first recorded incident of amanita smithiana poisoning in the Sea to Sky

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PAUL KROEGER - POISON MUSHROOM Pictured is the aminita smithiana, a toxic mushroom that poisoned a Whistler woman in late October.
  • Photo by Paul Kroeger
  • POISON MUSHROOM Pictured is the aminita smithiana, a toxic mushroom that poisoned a Whistler woman in late October.

A Whistler woman fell ill after ingesting a toxic mushroom this fall, the first recorded incident of amanita smithiana poisoning in the Sea to Sky, according to the B.C. Drug and Poison Control Centre (BCCDC).

The woman, who Pique has agreed to keep anonymous, is a regular forager who ingested what she believed to be an edible pine mushroom from her backyard in Alpine on Oct. 31. Within hours, she said she became "violently ill," experiencing symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. But with a flight to Ontario in the morning, she pressed on, unsure of the cause of her illness. By the time she landed, she said she was feeling better. It wasn't until the woman learned she might have consumed an amanita smithiana, which can have a "honeymoon phase" of up to 48 hours, during which symptoms subside before the kidneys start to shut down, that she went to a Mississauga hospital.

"It primarily attacks the kidney," said Paul Kroeger of the Vancouver Mycological Society.

"It can be a life-changing event."

This most-recent incident marks only the 11th confirmed case of amanita smithiana exposure in B.C. since 1988, and the first in the region, the BCCDC reported. Raymond Li, pharmacist with the agency, said of the other confirmed cases, six were from Vancouver Island, two were from the Sunshine Coast, one was from the Gulf Islands, and one was from Boston Bar, an unincorporated town in the Fraser Canyon.

Although reported cases of exposure to the "death cap" mushroom have been on the rise in B.C., Li said there is not enough information to suggest the amanita smithiana is experiencing the same trend.

"The very infrequent and sporadic reports that we have prevent us from establishing a clear pattern, but I would say no, poisoning with A. smithiana is not on the increase in B.C.," he wrote in an email. "However, it is important that people foraging for mushrooms are aware of the potential dangers of this mushroom to prevent further poisonings."

Kroeger, a regular of Whistler's annual Fungus Among Us Festival, said the smithiana isn't too common in Whistler, although he noted that he finds them foraging "most years" here.

"They're definitely a forest associate. But they can grow in a person's yard, if it's mimicking a forest habitat," he added.

Although they are often mistaken for pine mushrooms, Kroeger said the smithiana has several distinct characteristics.

"The amanita smithiana, in contrast to the pine mushroom, has flaky, white crumbly material that forms a veil when it's young. This remains a soft and little jaggedy veil flap that hangs around the edge of the cap, and the stem will have crumbly little bends of white remnants on it," he explained. Caps are white or off-white, and typically grow to between six and 12 centimetres wide.

Kroeger added that the smithiana tends to have an "unpleasant" odour, while the pine has "a very distinct spicy aroma," akin to cinnamon.

Li of the BCCDC urged the public to do their research before ingesting any wild mushroom.

"Only eat mushrooms that have been identified, and stick to well-known, popular edibles. Beware of poisonous look-alikes," he said. "If you're foraging for mushrooms, go with an expert or attend an event held by your local mycological clubs."

If you believe you've ingested a toxic mushroom, you should call poison control immediately at 1-800-567-8911.

More information about the amanita smithiana from the Vancouver Mycological Society can be found at vanmyco.org/about-mushrooms/poisonous/amanita-smithiana.

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