British Columbia

3-year-old Victoria boy dies from poisonous 'death cap' mushroom

A three-year old boy from Victoria has died after eating a poisonous "death cap" mushroom picked in the city, said health officials on Wednesday.

Boy was foraging for wild mushrooms with his family last week in downtown Victoria, say officials

A death cap mushroom picked in Victoria is responsible for the death of a three-year old boy. (Paul Kroeger)

A three-year old boy from Victoria has died after eating a poisonous "death cap" mushroom picked in the city, a health official said Wednesday.

The boy was foraging for wild mushrooms with his family last week at an undisclosed location in downtown Victoria, said Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Island Health.

He was treated in Victoria, then airlifted to Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, where he died last night.

His family decided to make his death public to warn others of the dangers of picking mushrooms without proper knowledge, said Stanwick, who has spoken to the boy's father.

"He basically wants to make sure that no other family has to go through what they've had to go through," said Stanwick. "It's just so so terrible."

Amanita phalloides or death cap mushrooms were first spotted in B.C. in 1997 when they were found growing in Mission, B.C., near old chestnut trees. (Paul Kroeger)

Deadliest mushroom in the world

It is the first recorded death in B.C. from a death cap mushroom, also known as Amanita phalloides, which kills more people than any other mushroom worldwide.

There have been two other significant but not fatal poisonings since the death cap was first spotted in B.C. in 1997, according to Paul Kroeger, a mycologist who helps identify mushrooms responsible for poisonings.

It is believed the fungus arrived years, if not decades earlier, on the roots of imported European trees, and is increasingly common in Vancouver, Victoria and the Fraser Valley.

There are now more than 70 documented locations in Vancouver with death caps, up from just six three years ago, said Kroeger.

The death cap contains a number of toxins, including amatoxin, which are not destroyed by cooking.

"This is what makes this mushroom so … scary," said Stanwick. "Even if you cook it, it will still have the potential to be deadly."

It's not been made public how much mushroom the boy ate, or in what form. One cap can be enough to kill an adult, usually through liver failure.

"Obviously in the case of this little boy it was too much for his body to handle."

The fungus that grows death cap mushrooms was introduced to B.C. on European trees imported to beautify Vancouver, Victoria and other parts of the province. This death cap was growing on the base of a hornbeam tree near Main Street in Vancouver. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Looks like edible straw mushrooms

Health officials warned last month of the death cap's growing prevalence in parts of B.C., and the boy's death has again prompted cautions not to forage for mushrooms without proper knowledge.

Death caps don't resemble any popular edible mushroom that grows natively in B.C., but they do look a lot like the paddy straw mushroom, a popular Asian edible mushroom.

Very young death caps have also been confused for puffball mushrooms, said Kroeger.

It's not clear what the family in this case believed they were picking.

"We obviously have to redouble our effort to educate the public," including possible signs where death caps are found, said Stanwick

Death cap mushrooms can look like puffballs when they're young, but if you slice them open it's possible to see the death cap developing, says mycologist Paul Kroeger. (Paul Kroeger)

With files from Ash Kelly