The mango season has been upon us for a while and will stick around for the next two months or so. Those who come from Ukambani, where mangoes are a seasonal flex, may be familiar with the phrase “ni ndetema ya maembe” (it’s sickness from mangoes), whenever one falls ill around the December to March mango season.
As crazy as it may sound, experts confirm that mangoes indeed can trigger potentially life-threatening reactions in some people. Often regarded as the “king of fruits,” the mango is loved for its dripping sweet flavour packaged in a fleshy pulp so it may come as a surprise that the peel, and in some instances, the pulp, can cause severe allergies.
“The peels of fresh mangos contain allergens similar to those found in poison ivy. For some, eating mangoes and coming into contact with the sap can cause skin irritation around the mouth, causing an eczematous rash or blisters on the lips,” says Dr Shadrack Chengo of Mlolongo Level Three Community Hospital.
“Though rare, the reaction impacts a number of people, where the skin around the mouth and throat may burn. The severity of this reaction varies from person to person. In most cases, it is mild enough for many to self-treat,” he says.
Research published in the National Library of Medicine shows otherwise. Aside from dermatitis (skin) reactions to mangoes, the fruit has been found to trigger throat irritation, asthma-like and respiratory distress symptoms in some people.
“The first patient was “persuaded” to undergo a mango ingestion provocation test. She ingested two slices of mangoes with which she experienced ‘rapidly acute symptoms such as hoarseness, dyspnoea and bronchitic rales (asthma)’. Her symptoms were relieved with injection epinephrine,” the paper reads in part.
“Many foods have the potential to cause allergies. It is important to recognise such manifestations early so as to avoid sickness and potential mortality in susceptible individuals,” says Dr Chengo. He adds that it’s important that pharmacists be aware of these allergies and some potential treatment approaches.
As for the fever that locals often blame on mangoes, Dr Chengo says poor handling of the fruit could be the cause. He says medics notice a spike in diarrhoea and vomiting around any fruit season including mango and avocado.
“It all points to contamination. The fruits are plenty, some are rotting away, mosquitoes and houseflies are revelling in the excesses,” he says. “This means diseases spread much more easily so, of course, people will naturally think it is mango fever,” says Dr Chengo.