Rambutan, the tropical fruit with peculiar red spines on the surface and a uniquely flavoured white edible portion on the inside, is a favourite with many people in Kerala. Though this fruit is in season, sales have plunged across the state after reports speculated that the 12-year-old boy who died in Kozhikode district, had contracted the Nipah virus from a bat-bitten rambutan fruit. While fruit vendors from different districts in Kerala say that the sale of rambutan has been badly hit, officials told TNM that it has not yet been confirmed that the boy contracted the disease through a rambutan fruit.
For fruit vendors who purchased rambutan in huge amounts considering the demand in the market, the sudden scare and aversion among people has put them at a loss. Elsa, a small scale fruit stall owner in Thrissur district, had recently purchased three large boxes full of rambutan, costing Rs 6,000. But not a single box has been sold out yet.
“No one is buying the fruit. We had purchased more than the usual quantities since it's the season for the fruit. Though the fruits are intact and do not have any bite marks or anything, people are not buying. We don’t know what to do with the three boxes, it will get stale soon,” says Elsa.
Fruit vendors in Kozhikode district, the epicentre of the disease, say that even the supply of the fruit has reduced drastically “After Nipah was reported and news came that the child ate rambutan, we are not getting the fruit in the market anymore,” says Bindu, a retail vendor. Bindu says that normally they could get good quality rambutan at Rs 200 per kg, and other quality variants for Rs 180-130. However, even distributors were not sending fruits to the retail market,
Meanwhile, another wholesale fruit vendor in Kozhikode said that the health department has given informal directions to shops in the market to stay away from selling rambutan for a few days. “Because of that we sent back two loads of rambutan that came from Idukki on Monday,” says Sajith.
Fruit vendors in Thiruvananthapuram district also voiced the same concern. “Not only rambutans, people are not very keen on buying fruits for the past two days. Only citric fruits like orange and mosambi (sweet lemon) are largely being bought,” says Sreedharan, a retail fruit vendor in Thiruvananthapuram.
Meanwhile, officials of the Animal Husbandry Department in Kozhikode district said that it is yet to be ascertained whether the boy contracted the disease through bat-bitten rambutan. “The child’s father had plucked rambutan fruits and the boy had eaten them. During inspection of the trees, we found that some ripe and raw rambutan fruits had been bitten by bats. We have collected samples, but they are yet to be sent for testing. The reports that we have confirmed the disease was spread through rambutan, is not true,” said KK Baby, Deputy Director of the Animal Husbandry Department in Kozhikode.