WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- An additional two people are currently being treated at Georgetown University Hospital after eating poisonous mushrooms in Northern Virginia. The two women, one from Warrenton, Virginia and one who was in town visiting from Thailand, bring the total number of mushroom poisoning cases treated at Georgetown Hospital in the past two weeks to four.
The women picked the mushrooms at a farm near their Warrenton home and ate them on Thursday night. The two women got sick the next day.
The first case happened when Springfield resident Frank Constantinopla and his wife picked mushrooms from their backyard to cook in a stir fry. A native of the Philippines, Constantinopla said it was a common practice back home.
"We thought they were organic," said the 49-year-old at a press conference on Saturday. "We thought it was a good mushroom because it sprung up in our backyard."
They had picked a fungi called Amanita phalloides, known as "death cap" mushrooms. Within hours of eating the mushrooms, Constantinopla and his wife felt sick. He developed worse symptoms. Within three days, he was suffering from the early stages of liver failure.
"You don't know they could be toxic that will come to your body," he said. "I'm lucky I'm still alive today."
Constantinopla was transferred from a Virginia hospital to the Georgetown Transplant Institute. Dr. Jacqueline Laurin, a Transplant Hepatologist, was aware of a drug that was still undergoing clinical trials and had not been approved by the FDA.
"We contacted one of the study investigators and they were able to rapidly transport the drug to us. With the treatment, his liver functioning improved and he recovered. He was sent home a few days later."
Silibinin, also known as milk thistle, is approved in Europe for amatoxin poisoning, caused by the toxin in some species of mushrooms. Although it's available in pill form as an herbal supplement in the U.S., the highly purified intravenous version was still being researched in Santa Cruz California, where there was a case of mushroom toxicity several years ago.
"The drug used is not truly an antidote in that it reverses the effects of the toxin what it does it prevents it from continuing to be taken up," explained Dr. Sorell Schwartz, Chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) subcommittee on adverse effects.
One week after Constantinopla's case, a retired farmer from Frederick fell ill with mushroom toxicity. Georgetown University applied for special permission to use the drug using the IRB approved protocol. The IRB board was called into an emergency meeting and that night, the Frederick patient was treated.
Now both men are recovering, and Georgetown University is monitoring their cases. All of the data collected will be included in the Santa Cruz clinical trials.
While they now have access to quick treatment for mushroom poisoning, doctors at Georgetown say it shouldn't come to that. People need to avoid eating mushrooms growing in the woods or back yards and buy their mushrooms from legitimate farms or grocery stores.
"We are a very international community and practices from many parts of the world and many different cultures come into the Washington Metropolitan area," said Dr. Thomas Fishbein, director of the Georgetown Transplant Institute. "And what grows here is not the same as what might grow in the areas where many of the patients who immigrate to this area come from."
MORE INFORMATION ON MUSHROOMS
North American Mycological Association - Mushroom Poisonings
Tom Yolk's Fungi - Frequently Asked Questions
Mycological Association of Washington -- Fall Tasting Meeting