MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A highly poisonous fungus with skin-absorbing toxins was first identified in the rainforest near the Great Barrier Reef, Australian scientists said on Thursday.
Fire Coral, which is best known in South Korea and Japan as one of the world's most poisonous mushrooms, has been found near Cairns, in the northern state of Queensland, James Cook University scientists said.
"If found, the fungus should not be touched and definitely should not be consumed," said Matt Barrett, a fungal expert at the university's Australian tropical herbarium.
"Of the 100 or so toxic mushrooms that researchers know, this is the only one where toxins can be absorbed into the skin."
If ingested, the characteristic red fungus causes a horrible variety of symptoms: stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and numbness are followed for hours or days by peeling skin of the hands and feet and shrinking of the brain, he added.
It is likely that the fungus occurred naturally in Cairns, although cases have also been reported from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Barrett said in a statement.
"The fact that we find a fungus as distinct and clinically important as Poison Fire Coral in our backyard shows that we have a lot to learn about fungi in northern Australia," he added.
Melanie Burton's report; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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