Eating Backyard 'Shrooms Nearly Kills 2

By Tim Persinko and Derrick Ward
|  Monday, Sep 26, 2011  |  Updated 8:45 AM EDT
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The recent wet weather has fueled the growth of wild mushrooms across the area and while they might look harmless, they are dangerous, sometimes even deadly.  NBC4's Derrick Ward reports.

Derrick Ward

The recent wet weather has fueled the growth of wild mushrooms across the area and while they might look harmless, they are dangerous, sometimes even deadly. NBC4's Derrick Ward reports.

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Heavy rains have helped flora flourish around the D.C. region, and mushrooms have been no exception.

When a Springfield, Virginia man saw a clutch of wild mushrooms sprouting in his backyard, he thought nature had given him a gift.

"This was my first time that I saw mushrooms in my backyard," said Frank Constantinopla, 49, "so I said why am I so lucky, why other houses don't have mushrooms like me?"

Constantinopla said that where he grew up the Phillipines, it was common practice to go looking for mushrooms after rainy weather, and then put them into a meal.

The only problem was, the mushrooms Constantinopla and his wife picked were likely Amanita phalloides, commonly referred to by mushroom experts as "Death Caps."

According to the CDC, Death Caps may be responsible for 90 percent of mushroom-ingestion deaths around the world.  Their smell is described as honey-sweet, and death caps have commonly been mistaken for Caesar's mushrooms or straw mushrooms, both edible.

After eating his backyard mushrooms in a stir-fry, Constantinopla got very sick, suffering from dysentery, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.  His wife also fell ill, but her symptoms were much milder.

Constantinopla wound up at Georgetown University Hospital, where doctors there told him he was in danger of liver failure.  Without treatment, Constantinopla would either need a liver transplant or faced death.

There is an experimental drug called silibinin, not yet approved by the FDA, that is supposed to inhibit the damaging effects of the death caps.  Constantinopla's physician at Georgetown University Hospital, Dr. Jacqueline Laurin, was able to secure permission to administer the experimental drug.

Constantinopla got the drug on September 15, responded positively, and has been recovering since then.

On September 21, another area man was transported to Georgetown University Hospital for treatment, also suffering from mushroom poisoning.  Walter Lantz, 82, a farmer in Frederick, had fallen ill after eating mushrooms on his property. 

Lantz ate another deadly mushroom variety, Amanita bisporigera, known as "Destroying Angels."  Those mushrooms can be mistaken for "little brown mushrooms," an edible variety.  Lantz was also given the experimental drug and has been recovering.

While physicians were happy that these two mushroom eaters had good outcomes, they caution everyone to avoid eating backyard fungus.  For those who like mushrooms, experts say, stick to the ones you buy in the store. 

"Our area has seen a lot of rain and dampness in the past month, meaning there are a lot of mushrooms sprouting up in people's backyards," Dr. Laurin said.  "We hope people will leave those alone."

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