One of the sample of Amanita phalloides, more commonly known as "death cap" mushroom found in downtown Victoria. Image: Island Health

Island Health confirms that a three-year-old boy has died after ingesting a poisonous mushroom.

“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the child’s family,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer. “This tragedy reinforces how important it is for recreational mushroom hunters to know the difference between a poisonous and non-poisonous mushroom. To an untrained eye, it’s easy to mistake a toxic mushroom for an edible one. If you aren’t sure, leave it in the ground.”

The youngster was foraging for wild mushrooms with his family last week at an undisclosed location in downtown Victoria.

Mycological examination of specimens collected at this site suggests that in all probability he ingested the Amanita phalloides mushroom, also known as the “Death Cap” mushroom.

Tests to confirm the presence of specific toxins in his system from this variety of mushroom are ongoing. He was initially treated at Victoria General Hospital, and later airlifted to a hospital in Edmonton where he died last night.

This is the first recorded death in this province from a B.C. Death Cap mushroom.

Stanwick explained that the differences between poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms can be very subtle, sometimes only seen microscopically. They grow in both urban and remote settings, and are becoming more common in urban areas such as Victoria, Vancouver and other regions across the province.

While it doesn’t look like any popular edible species native to B.C., the Death Cap does resemble the paddy straw mushroom, an edible and popular mushroom that grows in Asia.

If people choose to forage, Dr. Stanwick urges them to familiarize themselves with wild mushrooms, focus on the ones that can be easily identified and known to be safe and edible – and avoid the remainder, especially the Death Cap. Better yet, go harvesting with an expert in the field or even join your local mycological society.

The Amanita phalloides has an ordinary appearance. It is mainly white, with a white or yellowish stem, a cap that ranges from yellowish-green to light brown that is round when young and flattens with age. Its stem is bulbous at the base, and may be buried in soil. At maturity, it can be fairly large, up to 15 cm across.

“At the urging of the family, efforts will be made to improve public education of these risks as well as work on possible signage appropriate to locations where Death Caps are found,” Stanwick said.

Island Health’s tips to stay safe while mushroom hunting:

• If you are unsure or uncertain, don’t eat it.

• Only pick and eat mushrooms that are well known, distinct and easily identifiable.

• Eat small amounts.

If you suspect you’ve consumed a poisonous mushroom, call the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre at 1-800-567-8911 or 604-682-5050, and seek medical attention, or call 911.