NEWARK, NJ — New Jersey is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of wild mushroom poisonings, with 15 reported cases statewide since July 24, affecting individuals ranging in age from 15 months to 75 years, according to the New Jersey Poison Center.

In a Public Health Alert, the center warns against ingesting wild mushrooms, whether they are growing in your garden, on your lawn or in the wild.

Several of these cases have resulted in hospitalizations with potentially life-threatening consequences. No matter the scenario, picking wild mushrooms is dangerous and risky, according to  Diane Calello, M.D., medical director of the N.J. Poison Center, based at Rutgers NJ Medical Center.

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Many edible mushrooms have toxic “look-a-likes.” Eating even a few bites of certain mushrooms can cause severe illness. Some symptoms of mushroom poisoning include intense vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, damage to vital organs like the liver and even death, Calello said.

“Picking and eating wild mushrooms can be a dangerous game,”she said. “Even those who think they can identify a toxic mushroom can be fooled.

"Experienced mushroom pickers are even wrong sometimes, so we urge you to take this warning seriously," she continued. "Online mushroom identification sites can be falsely reassuring. Parents must teach their children to never put wild plants, berries, nuts or mushrooms into their mouths. Remember, your family pets are highly susceptible to mushroom poisoning as well."

Calello urges that if an exposure occurs, do not take a chance by waiting until symptoms appear or wasting time looking up information on the internet. Time is of the essence especially when it comes to mushroom poisoning. If someone is unconscious, not breathing, seizing, difficult to wake up, etc., call 9-1-1 immediately, otherwise call the N.J. Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Other measures to take:

  • Remove any remaining parts of the mushroom from the victim’s mouth and place those fragments and all mushrooms that are in the immediate vicinity of the incident into one or more paper bags —  do not use plastic.
  • Take a digital photograph of the mushroom(s) in question. It helps to take a picture of the mushroom next to other objects such as a coin, ruler, etc. to provide a sense of scale.

Further information is available on Facebook (www.facebook.com/njpies) and Twitter (@NJPoisonCenter).

As New Jersey’s only poison control center, the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System provides information on poison prevention and treatments. Chartered in 1983, NJPIES provides free consultation through telephone hot line services and the Web. Medical professionals such as physicians, registered nurses and pharmacists offer confidential advice regarding poison emergencies and provide information on poison prevention, drugs, food poisoning, animal bites and more. These specialists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

New Jersey residents seeking immediate information about treating poison emergencies, and those with any drug information questions, should call the toll-free hot line, 800-222-1222, any time. The hearing impaired may call 973-926-8008. For more information, visit www.njpies.org or call 973-972-9280.