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Oct 11

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  • It’s a perfect year for fungi foragers… if you can dodge the killers Wednesday October 23rd, 2019
    • Hours of autumn sunshine after months of rain means that the fields are full
    • Fungi are also extremely beneficial for the survival of their surrounding plants 
    • They may look harmless but Britain is home to plenty of deadly specimens too 

    Hours of autumn sunshine after months of rain means that fields and woods are full of numerous varieties of mushroom. It’s the perfect weather for foraging.

    Not that my grandpa would have called it by such a highfalutin word. Like countless people who grew up between the world wars, he simply went mushroom picking.

    The notion of paying ten quid for a tiny tray of girolles or chunky porcini in a posh supermarket would have horrified him. All those delicious mushrooms outdoors were waiting to be scooped up for free. Letting them go to waste was downright immoral.

    Grandpa would have been in his element this autumn. On a recent expedition carried out by the Fungus Conservation Trust (FGT), 102 different varieties were identified in the course of two hours’ foraging at just one country estate, Hestercombe in Somerset — a record-breaking haul.

    Among the rarities was the octopus stinkhorn, also known as Devil’s Fingers, a fungus that looks like a lost starfish.

    Michael Jordan, head of the FGT, called this cornucopia ‘a significant flush . . . brought on by the ideal summer and autumn weather’.

    But though 102 varieties might sound a lot, it’s a tiny fraction of the 15,000 types of fungus found in the UK. And thanks to this year’s perfect weather conditions, the Royal Horticultural Society says that more are on show than at any time for years.

    And this isn’t just good news for foragers. Fungi are also extremely beneficial for the survival of surrounding plants.

    When plants die, fungi help them decompose, recycling the dead plants’ carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen into nutrients for other plants and insects. But mushrooms are, of course, striking in their own right.

    Among recent surprising sights was a large common stinkhorn at Birkheads Secret Gardens in Newcastle, a huge fungus so phallic that one visitor made a complaint.

    True, the common stinkhorn has a foul smell, as its name suggests, but that’s probably not what offended the visitor’s delicate sensibilities. (Let it be noted that, in his Generall Historie Of Plants, written in 1597, botanist John Gerard listed the stinkhorn as the ‘pricke mushroom’. Charming.)

    Many more attractive fungi have been truffled up by mushroom hunters this autumn. They include the verdigris agaric, its brilliant green sheen radiant at Hyde Hall in Essex, and a puffball bigger than a human head, at Wisley in Surrey.

    The verdigris agaric, which pops up on mulch and compost heaps, is so little studied that experts can’t even agree on whether it’s poisonous. So if you see one, definitely don’t risk it.

    At Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, two rare, brightly coloured examples have been found: the scarlet caterpillar club fungus and the orange peel fungus. The caterpillar club is one of nature’s most macabre plants: it grows out of the underground bodies of moth pupae.

    My grandpa, who died aged 94 in 2008, would not have dared to pick caterpillar clubs, let alone verdigris agaric. He collected only what he had learned as a boy to be safe. Growing up on the North Downs, he first went picking with his mother, a born countrywoman.

    By the time I came along in the Sixties, he was living in suburban London, outside Croydon, where wild mushrooms had largely disappeared.

    The golden rule with mushrooms, of course, is never to eat them unless you are completely confident that what you’ve found is edible. Swallow the wrong sort and you could suffer diarrhoea, sweating, drooling and stomach cramps — and that’s a best-case scenario. They may look harmless but Britain is home to plenty of deadly specimens.

    My advice, then, if you’re inspired to go in search of these natural wonders is look but don’t eat.

    For if the frightening fungi on the right are anything to go by, pick the wrong mushroom and it could be your last.


    Death Cap: This plain whitish mushroom, with a zombie-like pallor to its cap, is the biggest fungal killer in the world, and it’s widespread in the UK. Eating just half a mushroom can be fatal. Severe abdominal pains set in after six hours, followed by liver and renal failure. Grows throughout the autumn on the ground in woods with broad-leaved trees such as oak and beech.

    Destroying Angel: This ghostly white mushroom is more lethal than the death cap. Just one of these in a bowl of soup is said to be potent enough to kill anyone who has a spoonful, and there is no known antidote. The chief toxin, alpha-amanitin, keeps circulating through the body, causing more damage with every pass.

    Fool’s Webcap: It may look nutty and nourishing, but eating this mushroom can be deadly — and it has no antidote. Its victims feel fine for the first three days after eating it — but then flu-like symptoms set in, followed by raging thirst and kidney failure. After consuming this fungus, which has a slight smell of a radish, the best you can hope for is a kidney transplant.

    Panther Cap: This pox-crusted fungus is fiercely poisonous, as many foragers have discovered when they mistook it for the much flatter edible blusher mushroom. Found under oak and beech trees. Under its cap are thin papery spokes called gills. Sometimes fatal, a person can expect to experience intense sickness and extremely vivid hallucinations.

    Funeral Bell: Growing on rotting conifer stumps, its toasted brown cap has gills underneath radiating from its stem. Looks dangerously similar to the brown stew fungus, which is edible. Virulently poisonous.

    Angel’s Wings: These delicate and fragile mushrooms grow on old pine stumps and are popular in Japan, even though they were linked to 55 cases of food poisoning and 17 deaths in one year. They produce an amino acid that attacks the brain cells, and causes acute encephalopathy, a severe brain disease.

    Fool’s Funnel: Also known as ‘the sweating mushroom’, it grows on lawns and meadows, meaning it is often confused with the edible Scotch bonnet. While eating it is rarely fatal, in large doses it causes abdominal pain, sickness, diarrhoea and blurred vision.

    Devil’s Bolete: With its striking red pores, this stands out on chalky soil. Poisonous, particularly when eaten raw, and causes severe diarrhoea and stomach pain.

    Source: Daily Mail

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  • Poor toilet hygiene behind E. coli superbug spread – BBC News Wednesday October 23rd, 2019

    People not washing their hands after going to the toilet, rather than undercooked meat, is behind the spread of a key strain of E. coli.

    Experts looked at thousands of blood, faecal and food samples.

    They found human-to-human transmission was responsible – “faecal particles from one person reaching the mouth of another”.

    Public Health England said hand-washing and good hygiene were key to preventing the spread of infections.

    There are many different strains of E. coli. Most are harmless but some can cause serious illness.

    Antibiotic-resistant E. coli is increasingly common. Strains which have ‘Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBLs) – enzymes that destroy penicillin and another antibiotic, cephalosporin – are causing particular concern.

    E. coli is the most common cause of blood poisoning, accounting for about one third of cases in the UK, with ESBL strains accounting for around 10% of those – around 5,000 a year

    ‘Little crossover’

    In the study, published in Lancet: Infectious Diseases, the team analysed 20,000 human faecal samples and 300 blood samples plus hundreds of sewage samples, animal slurry and meats including beef, pork and chicken – as well fruit and salad.

    One strain – ST131 – was seen in the majority of human samples from all three sources. It is found in the gut but can, usually via urinary tract infections, cause serious infections.

    However, the strains found in meat, cattle and animal slurry were mostly different.

    Prof David Livermore, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, who led the research, said: “Critically – there’s little crossover between strains from humans, chickens and cattle.

    “Rather – and unpalatably – the likeliest route of transmission for ESBL-E. coli is directly from human to human, with faecal particles from one person reaching the mouth of another.”

    He said maintaining food hygiene was still important – people should handle raw meat carefully, not least because there are other strains of food-poisoning bacteria that come through the food chain.

    But he added: “Here – in the case of ESBL-E. coli – it’s much more important to wash your hands after going to the toilet.

    “It’s particularly important to have good hygiene in care homes, as most of the severe E. coli infections occur among the elderly, and people may need help going to the toilet.”

    Prof Neil Woodford, of Public Health England, said: “In order to tackle antibiotic resistance, we not only need to drive down inappropriate prescribing, but reduce infections in the first place.

    “In order to limit serious, antibiotic resistant E. coli bloodstream infections, we must focus on thorough hand-washing and good infection control, as well as the effective management of urinary tract infections.”

    Source: BBC

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  • Walking slowly is a sign of aging fast: Study reveals a plodding pace at 45 may be a marker for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease Saturday October 12th, 2019
    • Doctors have long known that elderly people who walk slowly are at higher risk of an early death 
    • But new Duke University research found that people who walk at a slower pace are more likely to look older than they are and show signs of dementia 
    • The researchers found that these slow walkers could show signs of being less ‘mentally agile’ as young as age three
    • Screening tests for three- or 45-year-old people could help predict who is at highest risk for accelerated brain-aging and guide preventive measures 

    Walking speed can predict a person’s risk of killer diseases including dementia – decades before symptoms develop, new research suggests.

    The brains and bodies of slow walkers were found to have aged more by the time they were 45 to their speedier counterparts.

    Their lungs, teeth and immune systems also tended to be in worse shape than faster moving peers.

    What’s more, dawdlers can be identified from the age of three using mental agility tests.

    The findings could lead to a childhood screening program for Alzheimer’s disease and other life threatening conditions.

    Lead author Dr Line Rasmussen, a neuroscientist at Duke University, said: ‘The thing that is really striking is this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures.’

    It is feared one of the reasons dementia drugs trials keep failing is they are given too late, once the disorder has taken hold.

    Signs of ill health may be detected in middle age with a simple walking test, said Dr Rasmussen.

    Slower individuals were found to have ‘accelerated ageing’ on a 19-measure scale devised by the US and UK team.

    Equally striking, a retrospective analysis also showed they could have been picked out by measuring brain function when they were toddlers.

    At three years old their scores on IQ, understanding language, frustration tolerance, motor skills and emotional control predicted how fast they walked – 42 years later.

    Senior author Professor Terrie Moffitt, of King’s College London, said: ‘Doctors know slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age.

    ‘But this study covered the period from the preschool years to midlife, and found a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age.’

    It was based on data from a long term study of 904 people born during a single year in Dunedin, New Zealand.

    They have been tested, quizzed and measured their entire lives, most recently as last April when they were 45.

    The study, published in JAMA Network Open, included MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans during their last assessment.

    The average volume of grey and white matter, cortical thickness, and brain surface area was lower among the slower walkers.

    They also had more small lesions associated with blood vessel disease. In short, their brains appeared somewhat older.

    Adding insult to injury, they also had a panel of eight outside screeners analyze each participant’s ‘facial age’ from a photograph.

    Slow walkers were more likely to look older than their years outwardly as well.

    Gait speed has long been used as a measure of health and ageing in geriatric patients.

    But what was new here was the relative youth of the subjects and the ability to see how walking speed matches up with health measures collected throughout their lives.

    Dr Rasmussen said: ‘It is a shame we don’t have gait speed and brain imaging for them as children.’

    The MRI technique was invented when they were five, but was not given to children for many years afterwards.

    Some of the differences in health and cognition may be tied to lifestyle choices they have made, said the researchers.

    But the study also suggests there are already signs in early life of who would become the slowest walkers.

    Added Dr Rasmussen: ‘We may have a chance here to see who is going to do better health-wise in later life.’

    Suggestions of a link between slow walking speed and poor health have been made before.

    Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect 850,000 people in the UK – and the number will rise to 2 million by 2050.

    With no cure in sight there is an increasing focus on identifying those most at risk so they can take preventive measures before it is too late.

    Source: Daily Mail

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