Jul 13, 2010
BEIJING - EVERY summer during the height of the rainy season, villagers of all ages in a corner of south-western China would suddenly die of cardiac arrest. No one knew what caused Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome, blamed for an estimated 400 deaths in the past three decades.
Now, after a five-year investigation, an elite investigative unit from China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention believes it has pinpointed the cause: an innocuous-looking small mushroom known as Little White.
The search for the culprit began in 2005 and took investigators to remote villages spread over the rural highlands of Yunnan province, said Robert Fontaine, an epidemiologist with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Local health officials had noted the deaths for years. In 2004, they appealed to Beijing for assistance. The government gave the task to the China Field Epidemiology Training Program, a unit of medical investigators at China's CDC assigned some of the country's toughest health mysteries.
The investigators zeroed in on mushrooms, because the deaths were closely aligned with the harvesting season. More than 90 per cent of the deaths occurred in July or August.
By the end of 2005, investigators began issuing warnings to some villages to avoid eating unfamiliar mushrooms. A public information campaign to warn against eating the mushrooms has dramatically reduced the number of deaths. Only a handful have been reported in the last couple of years, and none so far this year. -- AP