'Do not touch': Warnings as deadly fungus hits Australia


The deadly fungus can shrink a person's brain and cause multiple organ failure. Source: AAP


A deadly fungus that can shrink a person's brain and cause multiple organ failure has been discovered growing in rainforest in Far North Queensland.

The bright red Poison Fire Coral fungus was found growing on tree roots by Redlynch fungus photographer Ray Palmer while exploring near Cairns.

The bright red hornlike fungus, regarded as one of the deadliest species in the world, is traditionally found in the mountains of Japan and Korea.

James Cook University confirmed it was the first record of the species found in Australia.

University mycologist Dr Matt Barrett warned people to avoid touching the eye-catching fungus.

"If found, the fungus should not be touched, and definitely not eaten," he said.

"Of the hundred or so toxic mushrooms that are known to researchers, this is the only one in which the toxins can be absorbed through the skin."

Several people have died in Japan and Korea after mistaking the deadly fungus for edible varieties and brewing it in tea used for traditional medicine.

The Poison Fire Coral produces at least eight toxic compounds and just touching the fungus can cause reddening or swelling of the skin.

"If eaten, it causes a horrifying array of symptoms: initially stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and numbness, followed over hours or days by delamination of skin on face, hands and feet,” Dr Barrett said.

The red hornlike fungus is one of the deadliest in the world and traditionally found in Japan and Korea, this is the first record of Poison Fire Coral fungus in Australia. Source: AAP

He added it can cause “shrinking of the brain, which, in turn, causes altered perception, motion difficulties and speech impediments.”

If left untreated, death can occur from multiple organ failure or brain nerve dysfunction.

Dr Barrett said there had been reports of the fungus growing in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, but it had never before been found in Australia.

The Poison Fire Coral is just one of more than 20 fungi species Dr Barrett has identified that were not previously documented in northern Queensland.

"The fact that we can find such a distinctive and medically important fungus like Poison Coral Fire Coral right in our backyard shows we have much to learn about fungi in northern Australia," Dr Barrett said.