There are a lot of ways a banana can kill you: choking, allergy, well placed knife, but one way that they will not kill you is via a flesh eating infection that has grafted itself to the skin of the banana.
The hoax mail
I have received three copies of the following email over the past few days:
please don’t eat bananas for the next 3 weeks
Several deliveries of bananas from uvongo kwa-zulu natal south africa have been infected with necrotizing fasciltis, otherwise known as flesh eating bacteria.
Recently this disease has decimated the monkey population in the south coast.
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 one of south africa’s largest exports.
Until this finding scientists were not sure how the infection was being transmitted.
It is advised not to purchase bananas for the next three weeks!!!
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 South Africans will be affected by this but that these are “Acceptable numbers”.
Please forward this to as many of people you care about as possible as we do not feel 15,000 people is an acceptable number!!
This is obviously a hoax email. The third copy which I received this morning even had an official coat of arms from the South African Department of Public Service and Administration and the contact details for some hapless apparatchik who will not know what hit her when hundreds of worried banana buyers start asking about a disease she’s probably never heard of.
This email hoax first surfaced in the USA in 1999. Twelve years later and the original hoax email has been only slightly changed for it’s South African summer holiday. Like, the only thing that was changed was the references to South African locations instead of Costa Rican ones.
The Kwazulu-Natal Agricultural Authority has released a statement refuting the claims of the hoax in general and specifically pointing out that the monkey population on the South Coast of the province is “flourishing”.
What really confuses me is the claim that the necrotizing fasciitis has grafted itself to the skin of the banana. regardless of whether or not the email is a hoax (it is) – can a bacteria graft itself to the skin of a banana, or any other fruit?
What is necrotizing fasciitis?
The US National Library of Medicine tells us that necrotizing fasciitis is a soft tissue infection, caused by bacteria which causes tissue death in skin, muscles and underlying tissue. The most often fatal form of the disease is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. The bacteria enters the body through a cut or scrape and rapidly starts to destroy the tissue around the wound, and spreads very quickly through the flesh.
You cannot catch necrotising fasciitis from ingesting a banana. Streptococcus lives in the human body.
What is grafting?
Horticultural grafting is where the tissues of one plant are inserted into those of another plant, in a manner that makes the vascular tissue of the plants fuse. My dad has roses (the scion) grafted to the stem and roots of a hardier plant (the rootstock) so that the roses can thrive. The roses bush is grafted onto the stem of the other plant and the stem and roots provide the roses with all the nutrients they need.
Humans have skin grafts when they suffer trauma to a part of their body. Skin is taken from an undamaged area, typically after being stretched or extended in some way, and is placed over the injury. The tissue, importantly the vascular tissues, graft together and the grafted skin covers the injured area.
An important part of grafting is that the donor and the recipient (the root stock and the scion) need to be closely enough related that the tissues can meld together and work as a whole. Some skin grafts for humans are taken from animals of other species, but they still have to come from a creature similar enough to humans that the two can bond (pigs are the closest, as far as I can tell).
Bacteria and fruit. They are not similar enough to graft, as far as I an tell. A banana’s skin has no vascular structure, nor does a bacteria. Bacteria are nothing like bananas! Bacteria can feed on the flesh of fruit, animals, humans. But grafting with the skin of not only a different species, a different family, order, class, phylum, kingdom… Bacteria are an entirely different domain of life! Bacteria are prokaryotic organisms, we are Eukaryotes. They don’t even have vascular structure.
I don’t have a definite yes/no answer to the question of whether or not a bacteria can graft itself to the skin of a banana, but I can say that based on the research I have done, it would be vanishingly unlikely.
Finally, South Africa does not have an FDA. The Food and Drug Administration is a governmental arm of the USA. They freak out about Listeria (one of the bacteria that causes food poisoning) outbreaks that result in no deaths. There is no way that they would say that 15 000 infections to a disease as scary as necrotizing fasciitis could be considered “acceptable numbers” and the suggestion is disgusting.