Date palms look innocent enough, but getting pricked by the sharp edges of the leaves can be dangerous and end in hospitalization.

Prof. Roni Peleg and Prof. David Greenberg of Ben-Gurion University’s Health Sciences Faculty, Soroka University Medical Center and Clalit Health Service say even many doctors here and abroad are unaware of the phenomenon. Writing in a recent issue of the Hebrew-language Israeli Journal of Family Practice, the experts on community medicine and infectious diseases said that such incidents are quite common but many patients are not treated.

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They looked at eight cases in which men suffered pain after being “stabbed” by date-palm leaves. Their average age was around 40, and they suffered “moderate” pain for about 13 weeks on average.

One man suffered harm to his eye rather than to a limb. In many cases, a sharp piece of the leaf – which contains a toxin – embedded itself in the tissue. One 14- year-old boy, who was pricked in the knee, suffered an infection with a virulent type of bacteria called Pantoea agglumerans.

The most important thing is to remove the sharp piece stuck in the tissue, the doctors wrote. But there may not be one, as the wound can be painful even without it. Suitable antibiotics should be given to fight the infection, but they don’t shorten this process. Analgesics could relieve pain, they wrote. Only the patient with the date thorn in the eye had to be hospitalized; all the rest were treated in their community health fund clinic.

As without any treatment the infection can get appreciably worse, the authors urged primary care physicians to learn to identify the injury, remove the thorn if it is present and fight pain and bacterial infection.