Rare mushroom blamed for mystery deaths

By John Sexton
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, July 14, 2010
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A rare mushroom may be the key to a 35-year-old mystery of unexplained sudden deaths in remote parts of southwest China, an American epidemiologist said July 13.

Trogia [File photo]

Dr. Robert Fontaine of the U.S. Center for Disease Control said a species of white mushroom know as Trogia is a likely factor in a series of mysterious deaths that began around 1975 in villages near China's border with Myanmar in Yunnan Province.

The victims of "Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome" were of all ages and both sexes. In some cases several members of a single family died within 24 hours of each other. In the early 1990s the problem seemed to be getting significantly worse. In all, around 400 people are thought to have died since the syndrome was identified. Significantly, the deaths, from sudden cardiac arrest, occurred in a short-period in July and August of each year.

"In some villages we can predict the week when this is going to happen," said Dr. Fontaine.

The local tragedies became a political issue following the broadcast of a documentary made by China Central Television.

"The central government was very concerned and gave the investigation quite a bit of funding," said Dr. Fontaine.

The investigating team, led by the China Center for Disease Control, isolated three factors involved in most cases. The victims had drunk local surface water, suffered recent emotional stress, or had eaten mushrooms.

Suspicion fell on mushrooms because July and August is the mushroom picking season in the area. In 2003 a cluster of deaths was discovered in which the victims had recently returned from a mushroom picking trip.

And in 2009 the wife, two daughters and a son-in-law from a single family died after eating a big meal of Trogia.

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