Poisonous death cap mushroom becoming more common in Belgium

Poisonous death cap mushroom becoming more common in Belgium
The green tuberous amanitas is one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world. Credit: Antigifcentrum

One of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world is growing in increasing numbers in forests across the world, including in Belgium.

Eating the green tuberous amanita (Amanita phalloides), which appears in summer and autumn, can lead to a person's death. Despite being one of the most dangerous fungi, the "death cap" or "angel of death" looks very similar to regular, edible mushrooms, further increasing its threat.

As we enter the mushroom season, the Antigifcentrum, a service that provides assistance and information for urgent medical assistance following poisoning, has put out a warning about poisonous mushrooms, saying that symptoms may take a while to appear after exposure.

"In the case of extremely poisonous mushrooms, it can even take a very long time before the first symptoms appear, and in some cases, it is then already too late and drastic medical treatment (e.g. liver transplant) is necessary," a statement read.

Following consumption of the olive-green mushroom, it can take up to 12 hours before symptoms occur. During the first phase, signs of gastro-enteritis will appear, including vomiting and profuse diarrhoea, which in turn will lead to dehydration symptoms.

These disturbances will then become less severe, however, this is the point at which the mushroom has targeted the liver, kidneys, or both, causing internal bleeding which will show up on blood sampling.

An infected person will require intensive care treatment, and in some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary, as there is no antidote. About 17% of victims die within ten days after eating the mushroom.

"By not picking mushrooms, you comply with the law and protect not only nature but also your own health," the Antigifcentrum said.

More prevalent

This year alone, hundreds of reports of the fungus in Belgium have been added to the digital platform waarnemingen.be, a cooperation of three large Belgian nature organisations: Natuurpunt Studie, Natagora and Stichting Natuurinformatie.

In 2021, the number of reports increased by 82% compared to 2020 and has surpassed levels seen in previous years, when there were never more than 100 sightings annually, according to reports from De Morgen. 

The increase can in part be explained by the fact that Belgium experienced a wet summer, followed by a reasonably warm autumn, creating ideal conditions for fungi.

Even a temporary increase in the number of green tuberous amanitas in nature can cause problems, according to Dominique Vandijck, deputy director of the Antigifcentrum. "If there are more mushrooms, people will come into contact with them more often and run a greater risk of being poisoned."

This is reflected in the centre's figures, which showed that even in 2020, there were 494 reports of poisoning following the consumption of a mushroom, compared to 371 cases in 2019.

He stressed the importance of only eating mushrooms that have been bought in a store. "Never pick them yourself, it is the best way to avoid accidents."

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