ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s meteorologists will tell you what a difference a thick monsoon season can make for the state. But in 2022, along with a greener landscape, this summer’s prolific monsoon rains have also made for a far more flush fungi season, and an unexpected health hazard.
According to the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center (NMPDIC), a total of 36 cases of mushroom poisoning have been reported statewide so far in 2022. That’s nearly record breaking. Just five cases shy of the 41 total cases reported in New Mexico in 2021.
The state authority on poison control, the NMPDIC says it has seen a “tremendous increase” in the number of mushroom poisonings. They believe the monsoon rains have contributed to what they call a “bumper crop” of mushrooms sprouting in New Mexico this summer.
The nature of many of those poisonings might surprise you. According to leaders at the NMPDIC, many of the cases they’ve dealt with aren’t a result of accidental ingestion, but rather intentional eating.
“A lot of it is from people foraging in their backyard – deliberately doing this, not the kid putting one in his mouth,” said Susan Smolinske, director of the NMPDIC. “We have not had any fatalities this year, but there have been lots of hospitalizations.”
Smolinske says the state is on track in 2022 to exceed the total number of poisoning reports in 2021. New Mexico does have a lot of different mushroom varieties, but the NMPDIC warns people that it can be difficult to figure out the difference between dangerous fungi and edible ones.
What makes mushrooms deadly? One of the key ingredients is amatoxin. NMPDIC says that toxic compound can attack the liver, kidneys and other organs.
Some varieties of mushrooms can cause immediate symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. NMPDIC says immediate symptoms often indicate that its “less likely to be serious.”
However, symptoms can also start to occur six or more hours after ingestion. In those cases, it’s more likely that you’ve ingested what Smolinske calls a “deadly time bomb.” There are no approved antidotes, but doctors typically address mushroom ingestion with treatments that counteract the damage.
People experiencing symptoms should call the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center at 1-800-222-1222. If you can, take pictures of what you ate.
“We need a really good history: How many meals did you have, how much did you eat?” Smolinske says. “How many people did this with you?”
If possible, technicians also want to know what the mushroom was growing in, like grass or wood. Also, was the mushroom growing by itself? Or in clumps?
Here are some tips from the NMPDIC on how to avoid mushroom poisonings:
- The best strategy is preventive.
- Don’t eat wild mushrooms.
- Teach children never to put any part of a wild mushroom in their mouths.
- Check lawns regularly for wild mushrooms, especially after heavy rainfall, and discard them in a trash container that is inaccessible to children and pets (dogs sometimes eat mushrooms and can also suffer toxic side effects).