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Dangerous confusion: mushroom poisoning can be deadly

37/2016, 29.09.2016

Refugees are affected particularly often

Stomach cramp, nausea, vomiting: symptoms of this kind can be typical of mushroom poisoning. Refugees would appear to be affected particularly often at the moment by poisoning caused by eating mushrooms that they have picked by themselves. In September 2016, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) received notice from the attending clinic of the death of a refugee who had collected and eaten death cap mushrooms. A total of 27 cases of mushroom poisoning were reported to the BfR in 2015, two of which were fatal. "There are some highly toxic mushroom species in Germany which look very similar to edible mushrooms from other regions of the world. This can pose a hazard to refugees in particular," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. A popular mushroom in the Mediterranean region, for example, is the edible European white egg mushroom, but it can be easily confused with the highly poisonous death cap mushroom which is indigenous to Germany. There is also a fundamental health risk for mushroom pickers, however, even though they may have knowledge of the local vegetation. Because of the similarity of many indigenous mushrooms, they can easily be confused with one another at a cursory glance. Children and elderly people run a special risk here as even small quantities of mushrooms can cause poisoning.

The health risk posed by poisonous or inedible mushrooms is relatively high, with poisonous varieties frequently being mistaken for harmless types. The death cap is one of the most poisonous mushrooms in Germany. Just one fresh mushroom of this species weighing approx. 50 g can cause lethal intoxication for an adult and half of this amount is sufficient to kill a child. Roughly five percent of all cases of mushroom poisoning are attributable to the consumption of death cap mushrooms, which grow mainly in deciduous forests from July to October, but which are also to be found in parks. These mushrooms can easily be confused with a number of edible varieties, such as button and brittlegill mushrooms. Death caps are responsible for approx. 80 percent of all fatal cases of mushroom poisoning.

If a person feels unwell after eating mushrooms, medical advice should always be sought or a poisons centre consulted in order to coordinate how to proceed further. Under no circumstances should treatment be given without medical instructions. Even seemingly harmless measures such as inducing vomiting can have serious consequences, such as vomit entering the lungs. Milk can even enhance the intake of poison.

The BfR brochure "Risiko Pilze" (risk from mushrooms), which can be downloaded free of charge from the BfR website as a pdf file, provides information on edible, inedible and poisonous mushrooms:

This BfR brochure is currently being translated into English and Arabic. The goal of the BfR here is to make selected risk communication measures accessible in the native languages of refugees. The flyers "Breastfeeding recommendations for pregnant women" and "Recommendations for breastfeeding in infancy", as well as the leaflet "Hygiene rules in the catering sector" - BfR publications which are in great demand - are already available in Arabic and can be downloaded free of charge from the BfR website.

The BfR Poisoning and Product Documentation Centre records all reports of poisoning submitted by physicians, including suspected cases. The basis of the obligation to report poisoning accidents is Art. 16e of the German Chemicals Act. In this way, "poisoning trends" can be recognised and preventive measures initiated. You will find more information on the obligation to report cases of poisoning and undesired product effects in line with Art. 16e of the Chemicals Act here:

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


An Arabic translation of this text is available here PDF-File (496.2 KB).

The Hannover Medical School offers a poster on its website which provides information on the poisoning hazard posed by the death cap mushroom and which is aimed specifically at refugees. The flyer is available in eight languages, including Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi:[tt_news]=4180&cHash=e2bf2888f1134b648ca89fe740f1a07c

Information can also be accessed in Russian via the Poison Information Centre North (Giftinformationszentrum-Nord):

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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