Tomato Flu Outbreak in India: Understanding the contagious disease
As per a study released by ‘The Lancet Respiratory Medicine’, the disease has emerged in the state of Kerala in children younger than five years
FP Staff Last Updated:August 20, 2022 21:20:47 IST
Representational image. Reuters
New Delhi: While the country continues to battle COVID-19 and monkey pox, a new virus known as tomato flu, or tomato fever, has emerged in India in the state of Kerala in children younger than five years, according to The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
The rare viral infection is in an endemic state and is considered non-life threatening. According to reports, 82 kids below five years of age have been infected so far. Tomato flu is a self-limiting illness and no specific drug exists to treat it.
Additionally, 26 children (aged 1–9 years) have been reported as having the disease in Odisha by the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar. To date, apart from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha, no other regions in India have been affected by the virus. However, precautionary measures are being taken by the Kerala health department to monitor the spread of the viral infection and prevent its spread in other parts of India.
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The study suggests that the virus could also be a new variant of the viral hand, foot, and mouth disease, a common infectious disease targeting mostly children aged 1–5 years and immunocompromised adults.
Although the tomato flu virus shows symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 (both are associated with fever, fatigue, and body aches initially, and some patients with COVID-19 also report rashes on the skin), the virus is not related to SARS-CoV-2. Tomato flu could be an after-effect of chikungunya or dengue fever in children rather than a viral infection.
Symptoms include, besides fever, fatigue, and body aches, rashes that lead to skin irritation. As with other viral infections, further symptoms include, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, swelling of joints, body aches, and common influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to those manifested in dengue.
The tomato flu was first identified in the Kollam district of Kerala on 6 May, 2022, and as of 26 July, 2022, more than 82 children younger than five years with the infection have been reported by the local government hospitals. The other affected areas of Kerala are Anchal, Aryankavu, and Neduvathur.
The disease gets its name on the basis of the eruption of red and painful blisters throughout the body that gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato. These blisters resemble those seen with the monkeypox virus in young individuals.
Owing to its similarity to chikungunya and dengue as well as hand, foot, and mouth disease, treatment is also similar to them — isolation, rest, plenty of fluids, and hot water sponge for the relief of irritation and rashes. Supportive therapy of paracetamol for fever and body ache and other symptomatic treatments are required.
According to the study, children are at increased risk of exposure to tomato flu as viral infections are common in this age group and likely to spread through close contact. Young children are also prone to this infection through use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, as well as putting things directly into the mouth.
Isolation should be followed for five to seven days from symptom onset to prevent the spread of infection to other children or adults.
The best solution for prevention is the maintenance of proper hygiene and sanitisation of the surrounding necessities and environment as well as preventing the infected child from sharing toys, clothes, food, or other items with other non-infected children.
Drug repurposing and vaccination are the most efficacious and ensure the safety of public health from viral infections, especially in children, older people, immunocompromised people, and those with underlying health issues.
Given the similarities to hand, foot, and mouth disease, if the outbreak of tomato flu in children is not controlled and prevented, transmission might lead to serious consequences by spreading in adults as well. Similar to other types of influenza, tomato flu is very contagious. Hence, it is mandatory to follow careful isolation of confirmed or suspected cases and other precautionary steps to prevent the outbreak of the tomato flu virus from Kerala to other parts of India.
With input from agencies