Bananas and a Flesh-Eating Disease: Real or Fake?

Introduction

An email resent out from UC Riverside’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences December 1999 warned people that bananas imported from Costa Rica were infected with a “flesh-eating disease” called necrotizing fasciitis. Claiming that anyone who has purchased or eaten a banana in the last 2–3 days should seek medical attention and if that is not possible, then “burning the flesh ahead of the infected area… to help slow the spread of the infection.” Without researching the topic and verifying this source, that email would strike concern and fear into its viewers.

The original email reads as follows:

Dear Friend,

Please forward to everyone you love!! This is VALIDATED FROM THE CDC. (centers for disease control in atlanta georgia)

Warning:

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 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 nationwide panic. They have secretly admitted they feel upwards of 15,000 Americans will be affected by this but that these are acceptable numbers.

Please forward this to as many people you care about as possible as we do not feel 15,000 people is an acceptable number.

Manheim Research Institute
Centers for Disease Control
Atlanta Georgia

The email reads as if this is someone reporting news that the CDC has validated or as if it came from the CDC itself. The ending even appears to originate from the CDC by formatting, stating, “Manheim Research Institute. Centers for Disease Control. Atlanta Georgia”. In turn, this would gain the trust of the viewers of this email, knowing that the CDC is a highly known and respected institution in the United States. However, after thoroughly researching this story, it is transparent that the email was yet another hoax and attempt to spread false information via the internet.

Bananas from Costa Rica.

Research Results

When thoroughly researching this story, trying to find any real evidence pointing to this email being slightly valid, I could not find any. Even with a simple search of “Costa Rica bananas and flesh-eating diseases” in Google, I was overwhelmed with numerous articles and websites debunking these claims. One of which was Snopes, a fact-checking website known for validating and debunking news stories.

Snopes rules that “The Costa Rican city of Cartago did experience an outbreak of necrotizing fasciitis during the summer of 1999, but nothing else here rings true. No reports of necrotizing fasciitis’ (or any other disease’s) “decimating” the monkey population of Costa Rica have come to light” (Mikkelson). The quote reassures the public that the email’s claim was nothing but false. Snopes goes on to state, “Once in a while we come across warnings such as this one, however — warnings so far off the mark (and with no obvious profit motive) that they can’t be classified as anything other than malicious hoaxes” (Mikkelson). A similar claim appeared once again in November 2011, according to Snopes. In this case, the only difference was that it cautioned against bananas from Uvongo Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. The post was reported by SkyNews.com.AU, leading people to believe in its false claims.

A South African boy from the province of Kwa-zulu Natal is selling bananas to a man in a dark blue jacket.
South African boy from Kwa-zulu Natal selling bananas

Also, in the email, there was said to have been research conducted at the “Manheim Research Institute” who allegedly confirmed the existence of the bacteria on the bananas…After looking around the internet, there is no such organization by that name, therefore, making this story less credible.

The claim that bananas from Costa Rica have been infected with necrotizing fasciitis can be easily proven false by conducting a tiny research amount. On the CDC website, they issued a press release on January 28, 2020, refuting all claims made in the email stating, “The bacteria which most commonly cause necrotizing fasciitis frequently live in the human body…FDA and CDC agree that the bacteria cannot survive long on the surface of a banana.” This statement discredits the claim given in the original email, allowing people to rest assured that there is no reason to worry. To ease people’s worries, the CDC also set up a hotline with the number (404)371–5375.

With the internet being widespread and accessible, it aids in and can be used by billions of people around the world. This is super beneficial, but this tool is something that has been abused. People will spread fake news to draw attention, make a profit, or start a panic. In this case, the email writer took advantage of a current outbreak to spread false realities. To protect oneself from fake news and rumors, do your research before sharing a story. Check the source, beware of confirmation bias, search to see if other news outlets are covering it, and most importantly, think before you share.

Works Cited

EricT_CulinaryLore. “Flesh-Eating Bananas From Costa Rica?” Culinarylore.com, 3 June 2018, culinarylore.com/food-history:flesh-eating-bananas-from-costa-rica/. Accesses October 19, 2020.

Mikkelson, David, and David Mikkelson. “Bananas and Flesh-Eating Disease.” Snopes.com, www.snopes.com/fact-check/banana-fits/. Accessed October 19, 2020.

“Mozambique: ‘Flesh-Eating Bananas’ Hoax Goes Viral.” The World from PRX, www.pri.org/stories/2011-12-02/mozambique-flesh-eating-bananas-hoax-goes-viral.

Goessel, Leigh. “Flesh-Eating Banana Hoax Circulates in Mozambique.” Digital Journal: A Global Digital Media Network, 3 December 2011, www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/315467?noredir=1 Accesses October 20, 2020.

“CDC Newsroom.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Jan. 2000, www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r2k0128.htm. Accessed October 19, 2020.

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