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Mozambique: "Flesh-eating bananas" hoax goes viral

Banana sales plummet and governments in Mozambique and South Africa are forced to declare the fruit safe to eat, after a "flesh-eating banana" hoax spreads by email, text message and BBM.
Flesh eating bananas 12 02 2011Enlarge
A boy sells bananas in Manica town near Mozambique's border with Zimbabwe. Rumors of flesh-eating bananas in Mozambique - and in particular, bananas grown in neighboring South Africa's province of KwaZulu-Natal - have caused sales of the fruit to drop. (CARLOS LITULO/AFP/Getty Images)

Rumors of "flesh-eating bananas" have spread like wildfire in Mozambique, causing sales of the fruit to drop sharply and prompting governments to declare that bananas are safe to eat.

The flesh-eating banana hoax has spread by email, text message and Blackberry Messenger. The messages warn people against eating bananas for the next three weeks or risk catching the rare flash-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis, the South African Press Association reported.

A similar hoax about flesh-eating bananas reportedly spread in Costa Rica more than a decade ago.

The hoax messages circulating in Mozambique and South Africa advise people to burn the skin around a supposed infection, and to see a doctor if they develope a fever after eating the fruit.

An email message said:

"Recently this disease has decimated the monkey population in the South Coast [of South Africa]. 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 ...  It is advised not to purchase bananas for the next three weeks! If you have eaten a banana in the last two to three days and come down with a fever followed by a skin infection, seek MEDICAL ATTENTION!!!"

Bananas from the Uvongo area of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province are singled out as the source of the virus, despite the fact that Mozambique does not import bananas from neighboring South Africa, according to SAPA.

Banana sales in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, have fallen sharply as a result of the hoax.

The country's health minister on Friday reassured people that bananas are safe to eat.

"From the work conducted by the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Trade and Industry, it was concluded that there is no record of entry of any infected banana in the country," a statement said.

South Africa's government also said the messages were a hoax.

"The information received from the Department of Health reports that the e-mail is a hoax, and any claims regarding poor food safety will be investigated," Steve Galane, spokesman for the department, said in a statement, SAPA reported.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Scandal over mislabeled "halal" pork

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/flesh-eating-bananas-hoax-mozambique-kzn-necrotizing-fasciitis

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