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Flesh-Eating Bananas!

Netlore Archive: Killer bananas from Costa Rica (or South Africa) infected with necrotizing fasciitis, the deadly 'flesh-eating disease'? Don't panic, it's an Internet hoax!

Description: Forwarded email
Circulating since: Jan. 2000
Status: False (see details below)

Email text contributed by S. Teboe, Jan. 10, 2000:

Bad Bananas


Several shipments of bananas from Costa Rica have been infected with necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating bacteria. Recently this disease has decimated the monkey population in Costa Rica. We are now just learning that the disease has been able to graft itself to the skin of fruits in the region, most notably the Banana which is Costa Rica's largest export. Until this finding scientist were not sure how the infection was being transmitted. It is advised not to purchase Bananas for the next three weeks as this is the period of time for which bananas that have been shipped to the US with the possibility of carrying this disease.

If you have eaten a banana in the last 2-3 days and come down with a fever followed by a skin infection seek MEDICAL ATTENTION!!! The skin infection from necrotizing fasciitis is very painful and eats two to three centimeters of flesh per hour. Amputation is likely, death is possible.. If you are more than an hour from a medical center burning the flesh ahead of the infected area is advised to help slow the spread of the infection. The FDA has been reluctant to issue a country wide warning because of fear of a nationwide panic. They have secretly admitted that they feel upwards of 15,000 Americans will be affected by this but that these are "acceptable numbers". Please forward this to as many of the people you care about as possible as we do not feel 15,000 people is an acceptable number.

Manheim Research Institute

See also:  South Africa / Mozambique Version

Analysis: Can anyone tell me where in the world the "Manheim Research Institute" is located? If so, please drop me a line, because I haven't been able to find a shred of evidence that it exists (NOTE: see 2012 update below).

Necrotizing fasciitis. The name alone is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Also known as "the flesh-eating disease" (much easier to pronounce than "neck-row-tie-zing fash-ee-eye-tis"), it is a real — though rare — medical condition resulting from infection by the Group A streptococcus bacterium, the same germ that causes strep throat. It attacks the soft tissues under the skin, resulting in gangrene. Amputation is sometimes required, and it can result in death.

It's a nasty disease, no question about it. But, while it's theoretically possible to contract Strep A by ingesting prepared food contaminated via direct contact with an infected person, this would be an unlikely outcome, and even more unlikely to lead to a case of necrotizing fasciitis.

The notion that raw, unprocessed fruit could be infectious in this manner is absurd. The text's claim that "the disease has been able to graft itself to the skin of fruits" is pseudo-scientific twaddle. It simply can't happen.

You needn't take my word for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control:

Group A streptococci are spread by direct contact with secretions from the nose and throat of infected persons or by contact with infected wounds or sores on the skin. The risk of spreading the infection is highest when a person is ill, such as with "strep throat" or an infected wound.

According to Alan Eckles, an epidemiologist with the Chatham County Health Department in Georgia (quoted in the Savannah Morning News):

The bacteria that most commonly causes necrotizing fasciitis lives in the human body. FDA and CDC agree it cannot live long enough on the surface of a banana.

Conclusion: You can eat imported bananas without fear of them eating you. The forwarded warning is a hoax.

2011 Update: Flesh-Eating Bananas in South Africa - New variants (from 2005 to 2011) claim shipments of contaminated bananas are spreading necrotizing fasciitis in South Africa and Mozambique.

2012 Update: I was contacted in April 2012 by marine geochemist and policy researcher Frank Manheim, who told me there is indeed a Manheim Research Institute, but "it is strictly a modest private institute under my direction and has no connection with the CDC or flesh-eating bananas." He also offered this speculation: "It could just be that somebody who knew or knows me concocted that hoax about flesh-eating bananas. It's a good one and I score it high for creativity."

Sources and further reading:

CDC Statement: Banana Hoax
Centers for Disease Control, 23 May 2001

FAQ: Group A Streptococcus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 May. 2014

National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation
20 Feb. 2000

Firsthand Account of Food-Borne Group A Strep
Update, 1 Feb. 2000

The Great Banana Scare of 2000
Urban Legends, 23 Feb. 2000

Last updated: 04/11/15

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