11 October 2012

Fatal hazards to look out for in your back yard

The recent death of a KwaZulu-Natal family as a result of mushroom poisoning have brought home the danger of toxic plants and fungi which are found in nature and our gardens.

The recent death of a KwaZulu-Natal family, including a toddler, as a result of mushroom poisoning have brought home to South Africans the danger of toxic plants and fungi which are found in nature and our gardens. 

“Mushroom poisoning is relatively common in South Africa,” says Mande Toubkin, General Manager Emergency, Trauma, Transplant and Corporate Social Investment of Netcare. “Many people are unaware of the dangers that certain mushrooms and plants can pose to our health. As this tragic case inKwaZulu-Natal has shown, some fungi and plants can contain potent and even deadly toxins.”

The identification of mushrooms should be left to the experts as it is difficult to tell which types are toxic and which are edible,” continues Toubkin. “There are books available that can help identify the different mushrooms found in South Africa but they are often very difficult to tell apart. It is therefore best not to pick your own mushrooms or buy them from street vendors.”

According to Toubkin, the Amanita phalloides mushroom, also known as the “Death Cap”, appears edible but is in fact extremely dangerous if it is ingested. It is responsible for the majority (90%) of mushroom related deaths around the world and half of all individuals who consume this particularly toxic fungus die. 

Prevention better than cure

Toubkin points out that prevention is always better than cure with regard to mushrooms. Families should take care to only eat mushrooms that have been purchased from a reputable retail outlet and keep their children and pets away from any fungi, or indeed plant, which may be dangerous. Parents should remove any mushrooms or toxic plants from their garden rather than run the risk of their children ingesting these, she advises. 

“ Apart from risky mushrooms, a number of plants that are commonly found in gardens also contain powerful toxins. The foxglove, frangipani and oleander are all cases in point being toxic enough to kill animals and people if consumed in adequate quantities. Even the delicate daffodil has poisonous bulbs, which if eaten, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and sometimes death.”

Fortunately humans or animals rarely consume these plants. Toubkin says the oleander tastes so vile that children are highly unlikely to ingest a sufficient amount of the toxins it contains for it to be dangerous. Nevertheless such plants pose a potential threat and parents might want to avoid planting them in the garden to remain safe. In Toubkin’s view it is also a good idea for children to be educated about any such hazards that may exist in the garden. It should be noted that the smoke from burning oleander is toxic and can cause perilous reactions in the lungs.  

Symptoms of mushroom poisoning

Dr Victoria Roets, Netcare 911’s Principle Medical Consultant, says the symptoms of mushroom poisoning can vary greatly depending on the type of toxic mushroom concerned. “Symptoms related to Amanita phalloides consumption can include abdominal pain, slow heartbeat, vomiting and diarrhoea, fatigue, hallucinations and muscular spasms. This mushroom is also highly toxic to the liver, and the kidneys.”

 She adds that anyone who may have ingested toxic mushrooms or plants should be taken to a hospital immediately. Home remedies are not helpful and should be avoided. “Get to your nearest emergency unit if you suspect your child has ingested anything toxic,” advises Dr Roets.

“If you need advice on treatment you must call a poison centre. The poison centre may recommend giving activated charcoal to the child as this could help to adsorb (bind) the toxin, depending on the type of mushroom ingested.”

“Activated charcoal is a good agent to keep in any first aid kit, but should only be administered after medical advice has been sought. The poison centre may also advise you to induce vomiting, however this is not to be done without the proper medical guidance.”

(Press release, October 2012)

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