The humble mango. It’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it grows in abundance in Australia.
It could also land you in hospital.
Georgia Carter knows this from painful experience. She’s a victim of “mango burn”.
The rash or burn occurs when fruit sap squirts onto exposed skin, leaving huge welts, pustules and scabs.
About 10 years ago, 77 workers in the Northern Territory found this out the hard way, ending up in Katherine Hospital with mango burns.
Georgia’s experience was so bad it sent her to hospital.
“I think the problem was that I had put the mangoes in my front pockets, all over me … I didn’t even think that would happen,” she said.
A day later, Georgia noticed a small mark near her collarbone.
“It genuinely started looking like I had burnt it with a [hair] straightener. That’s what it first looked like, but over the next few days it kept spreading and getting worse and worse,” she said.
It took Georgia a few days to figure out that the rash came from sap.
While backstage at the popular Kimberley Girl fashion show, the humidity in the air made her rash unbearable.
“It was so itchy and horrible; it was all over my neck and throat and everything was swollen.”
“I was on the headset like, ‘OK I think I need to go to hospital,’” she recalled.
After a three-hour wait in the emergency department, she was discharged and given some medication to ease the flare-up, but it didn’t help.
“It kept spreading over the weekend. Luckily, I went to the Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service, and they gave me everything I needed, like steroid cream.”
President of the Rural Doctors Association of Western Australia Brittney Wicksteed said mango rash was also common in the Kimberley.
“it’s not something we necessarily get taught a great deal about in medical school, but I think any doctor who’s worked up in the Kimberley learns about it in their first week or two,” she said.
“It’s essentially a form of contact dermatosis, it’s quite common for people to have an allergy to the sap itself … if you do get mango sap in your eyes, I’d advise you seek medical treatment right away.”
Chris Robinson has run a mango orchard in Kununurra for around thirty years, and he learnt quickly that sap burns aren’t just painful, they’re also unprofitable.
“Mangoes that get sap squirted onto them, they will burn, and they will become unmarketable from a week or ten days later. It does the same thing to your skin … you learn very quickly to not burn the mangoes, or yourself,” he said
“You gotta take them off with long stems. We’ve developed a technique to avoid sap burn but it still does happen occasionally, and we suffer through it.”
For Georgia, there’s a small white scar on her neck, but that’s not the only thing that she’s been left with. The fear of going through the pain again has left her anxious when it comes to eating the fruit.
“Everyone should know how much it hurts, it’s like a full-on burn and not fun at all. The thing is people might not realise it’s mango sap as well; it came up a day later and I didn’t even realise what it was.”
Dr Wicksteed says burns aren’t the only mango-related emergency incidents she sees.
“Mango rash is the most common one, but up in the Kimberley you do get the odd person hit on the head by the odd mango or coconut coming through the door.”
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