Despite making it all the way from the Middle East to Germany, a 16-year-old Syrian lay in hospital in Münster in a critical condition earlier in September.
Doctors put out an urgent announcement across eight different European countries looking for a replacement liver. But five days later, a substitute organ had not been found and the young man died.
The young refugee's death had nothing to do with the civil war in Syria, or his flight across the Mediterranean into Europe – it was the tragic result of a mistake which is endangering dozens of refugees who go into German forests hunting for food.
Doctors at the University Clinic in Münster treated the 16-year-old and his mother after they had eaten death cap (amanita phalloides) mushrooms – a highly toxic fungus responsible for over 90 percent of mushroom poisoning related deaths in Germany each year.
The death cap is particularly dangerous because the poison only takes effect several hours after consumption and has by this time already worked its way around one's entire body.
Every autumn there are a couple dozen cases of mushroom poisoning across Germany, reports health insurance company DAK.
Numbers having been rising in recent years – a fact that DAK attributes to Germans losing their fear that mushrooms contain toxic fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
But this autumn, cases of poisoning have taken on a different scale altogether – and doctors say the people they are treating are predominantly asylum seekers.
On one night alone in September, the Medical School in Hanover (MHH) dealt with 17 cases of mushroom poisoning after asylum seekers had consumed death caps.
“Most of the patients are refugees from Syria. There seems to be a mushroom there that they are mistaking the death caps for,” said Dr. Andrea Schneider, senior doctor at the MHH.
In another fatality, a 44-year-old Romanian man also consumed death cap mushrooms.
Carola Seidel, head doctor at the Poison Information Centre in Bonn explained that immigrants are particularly at risk because foraging for food is much more of a cultural norm in eastern European and the southern Mediterranean than in Germany.
A poster explains the dangers of death caps in German and Arabic. Source (MHH)
The MHH is now taking measures to raise awareness among refugees about the dangers of death caps.
They have created a sign available in Arabic, as well as six other languages including Russian and Farsi, warning mushroom gatherers to check with experts before they eat wild mushrooms.
Death caps can be recognized through their bell-shaped head and the white lamellae on the underside. They can be green, yellow or white.