HEADLINES Published September22, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Migrants in Europe Getting Sick on Poisonous Mushrooms

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Some refugees in Europe have accidentally eaten death cap mushrooms.
(Photo : Sean Gallup, Getty Images )

Many of the immigrants and refugees that have streamed into Western and Central Europe have been foraging for food due to their long and arduous treks. Some have inadvertently eaten toxic mushrooms, causing serious illness.

Hanover Medical School in Hanover, a city located in north-central Germany, is reporting that about 30 refugees have eaten the poisonous toadstool known as the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Some of those who ate these mushrooms have become severely ill. Similar cases of mushroom poisoning have been reported in the city of Muenster, about 110 miles west of Hanover. A dozen patients are still hospitalized, with three in critical condition.

Desperate migrants have been fleeing from strife in Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East to Europe searching for asylum. They have often to living off the land for food in their trek.

Hanover Medical School has printed up and distributed posters in Arabic, Kurdish, and other languages telling migrants to avoid the mushrooms. The posters carry photos of death caps and say: "Do not collect mushrooms, if you are unfamiliar with edible growing mushrooms here. A mushroom you regard from your homeland as a delicious edible mushroom could be deadly here although they look similar."

The death cap mushroom is native to Europe and grows in the fall. It looks like several varieties of edible mushrooms, which can be confusing to people who are unfamiliar with local species of mushroom. Death caps are also found in the western United States. In the United States, there are typically a few cases a year of death cap poisonings in California because immigrants from Asia confuse it with an edible mushroom from their homeland.

Death caps do not taste bad. The first symptoms show up several hours after eating the mushrooms, which means that the damage is already done before anyone realizes. By the time symptoms appear, the liver or kidneys could be irreparably damaged. At one time, 60% to 70% of people who ate death cap mushrooms died. Now, with immediate medical care, the death rate is between 10% and 15%. 

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