Responding to the recent West Michigan outbreak of FARS-P, known as ‘Pumpkin-Rash’, Health Department Authorities from both Kent and Ottawa Counties issued an Emergency Health Alert this morning, urging parents, teachers, children and all residents with or near a pumpkin to take immediate precautions against this Transmittable Spore Disease (TSD). FARS-P (or Fungally-Atrophiated Respiratory Sclerosis, Pumpkin-based strain) is a highly contagious TSD, spread through airborne spores released by the pumpkin’s ‘skin rash’; and while less than 5% of cases prove fatal, victims still suffer prolonged and severe symptoms, including breathing difficulties, painful muscle spasms, and migraine-headaches triggered by seeing the color orange.
Today’s alert comes after seven reported cases of FARS-P in the last week, with victims ranging in age from six-years-old to sixty-three. In one extreme case, a fifty-nine-year-old Allendale man was hospitalized Monday with severe breathing difficulties and an unwanted erection that began after carving a pumpkin and lasted nearly eighteen hours. Doctors are now advising any users of Viagra or Cialis to keep pumpkins away from their homes or vehicles, and to seek immediate medical attention in the event of a painful or persistent erection occurring under non-sexual circumstances. All seven victims are still receiving treatment for a variety of symptoms, while being kept under quarantine at an undisclosed location; but the Allendale man is said to be alert and semi-flaccid, while remaining in Intensive Care.
In this morning’s joint press conference held near a Coopersville pumpkin farm, Authorities combined their call for urgent action with a caution against overreaction. “Not every pumpkin is a bad pumpkin”, said Kent County Health Administrator Dr. Frederick Kildare, “And it’s reasonably safe to enjoy looking at pumpkins from a safe distance of at least fifteen feet upwind, but any pumpkin displaying rash-symptoms should not be touched with bare hands, and by no means should you let one get near your face.” In an effort to make today’s Health Warning less alarming, nurses wearing hazmat suits served sterilized apple cider and cinnamon-spiced donuts to the assembly of media members and anxious local residents, as Officials shared information and answered questions. “The spores are in the pumpkin sores, but people will be safe if they stay away from any pumpkin with that very visible skin rash”, explained Dr. Kildare, “And we need to reassure everyone that gourds, used for porch-decoration or centerpiece-displays, are still completely safe. Even though pumpkins and gourds are botanical cousins, this strain of FARS-P has shown no signs of a transmutation into the far deadlier strain of FARS-G, which, in 1987, killed more than a hundred people in Southwestern Minnesota.”
Although this new outbreak of Pumpkin-Rash has yet to cause any fatalities, Authorities still fear the virulent strain of FARS-P could be the most dangerous pumpkin-related disease since the outbreak of Pumpkin-Seed-Fever in 1958, which claimed forty-seven lives and hospitalized thousands more across Western Michigan before finally being eradicated in a statewide pumpkin burning campaign conducted by the National Guard. Black Halloween, as that October in 1958 came to be known, was responsible for the subsequent banning of all pumpkin-related Halloween activities in many local communities, from Lowell to Nunica. Some of these laws were maintained well into the 1970s, and in Zeeland it remained illegal to handle or carve a pumpkin without gloves, face-mask and safety-goggles until 1983.
Because today’s Warning comes so close to Halloween, increasing the risk and anxiety for so many who have already handled or carved pumpkins, Health Authorities concluded their press conference by announcing that a partnership between Walgreens and CVS will soon make affordably-priced FARS-P Home Test Kits available through all local outlets of both retailers; providing both early-warning and peace-of-mind to those at greatest risk. A full list of the officially recommended precautions, and detailed instructions for handling & disposing of suspicious pumpkins, has been posted at Kent and Ottawa County websites, and free brochures are available at CVS and Walgreens.