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Fact Check: Is The 'tomato' Virus Harmful To Humans? What Is Infecting Tomatoes?

Fact Check: Tomatoes in Maharashtra are said to be infected with an unknown disease and it has been claimed that it is a virus which is also harmful to humans.

fact check


Tomatoes contain a new kind of virus that could be harmful to humans


Social media and certain news portals




There has been a wide-scale spread of fear and danger because of the viral nature of the coronavirus. Along with all the news about COVID-19, there have also been many false and misleading news reports. A recent claim was made by a news source which claimed that crops of tomatoes are now getting infected with a virus named 'tomato' virus or ‘tiranga’ virus, which can prove to be deadly for people who are consuming them.

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The tomatoes' tiranga virus fake claims were majorly made on Twitter and Whatsapp. People took to Twitter to share their fear and shock that tomatoes now contain a certain type of virus that can be harmful to humans. They also shared a clipping of a news report made by a certain news channel, which threw light on this ‘virus’ that has been gripping all the tomatoes. The report on the channel claimed that this virus can be more dangerous than COVID-19.

While people started believing that the tomato or ‘tiranga’ virus could prove to be more dangerous than coronavirus, it is a misleading claim. The farmers in Ahmednagar, Pune and Nashik districts in Maharashtra had come forward and talked about how they have faced a loss of tomato crops on a massive scale, as reported by a leading daily. The report shared how about 60 % of the crop was ruined in 10 days and thus the farmers claimed that a certain ‘Tiranga’ virus has been behind this decimation.

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The tomatoes are infected with an unknown disease and it is not harmful to humans

Ajit Navale, who is the General Secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, shared with another news source that the plants are drying up and the ripe tomatoes are losing its shape. This has caused major panic in the farmers that this ‘virus’ from tomatoes can also ruin other crops. Thus, farmers in Maharashtra are distressed about the situation.

The farmer community has named the virus as 'Tiranga virus' since three colours have been spotted in the infected tomatoes, as reported by a regional news article. A local farmer named Rangnath Bhalke shared that the farmers decided to call it 'tiranga', and the name is now commonly used to refer to the unknown virus by media portals. No medical agency or government body has confirmed its name to be 'Tiranga' as the disease infecting the tomatoes is still unidentified.

While the fact that the tomato crops in Maharashtra are facing some unknown issues and are getting ruined is true, there is no evidence that these tomatoes are harmful to humans. A news website quoted the Indian virologist Dr Jacob T. John, who said that plant viruses cannot infect humans in any way as the human cells are different from that of plants. Thus, while it is a matter of concern as to why the crops are getting ruined, the so-called ‘ tomato virus’ will not spread its way through humans. There have been no tomato virus symptoms as well. 

The Agri News Network also came up with an official letter, claiming that the unidentified cause of tomato crops getting ruined will not affect humans in any way. Dr BNS Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner, Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare spoke about the same on the Agri News Network website. He wrote:

the second part of the story that eating such fruits would cause much more complications than that of Coronavirus is absurd. As of date no plant virus affecting plants has affected human beings as they lack the receptors for such an infection.

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Member of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and politician Prithviraj Chauhan also tweeted about this hoax. He wrote that such fake news must not be circulated. Here is his tweet:

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Google Trends Analysis

People have been trying to look for the tomato virus or tiranga virus. Here is a comparison of searches in-between 'tomato virus' and 'tiranga virus'. The blue is 'tomato virus' search while the red is 'tiranga virus' search. 

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