Tomato flu warning issued in India, but what is it?

Disease is named after the painful red blisters that appear on the bodies of patients

Children are at an increased risk because viral infections are common among their age group. AP
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India’s Health Ministry has issued an advisory after more than 100 cases of tomato flu were reported in children younger than 10.

The first case of the highly contagious infection, a variant of hand, foot and mouth disease, was reported on May 6 in the city of Kollam in the southern state of Kerala.

It has since spread to states including neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Haryana in the north.

At least 26 children have been infected in eastern Odisha state, the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar said.

“The disease, which seems to be a variant of hand, foot and mouth disease, occurs mainly in children under 10 years of age, but it can occur in adults too,” the ministry advisory said.

“Infants and young children are also prone to this infection through the use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, as well as putting things directly into the mouth."

What is tomato flu?

The disease is named after the painful red blisters that form on the bodies of infected people. The blisters can grow to the size of a tomato.

Sores also appear on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks.

While the blisters may resemble monkeypox, it is not related to the virus.

Tomato flu usually begins with mild fever, a loss of appetite and a sore throat.

Other symptoms include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, swollen joints and body aches, British medical journal The Lancet has said.

Children are at an increased risk because viral infections are common among their age group, it said.

"My daughter has blisters all over her body ... it is painful, but she is now recovering. The situation lasted for five days," Sanchi Abbi, whose daughter is 5, told The National.

Isolation and treatment

Tomato flu is a self-limiting illness and there is no specific drug to treat it.

Doctors have said patients should isolate for a week to prevent it from spread. Paracetamol can be used to treat the fever and body aches, while patients should also have plenty of fluids.

Items including toys, clothes and food touched by someone with the disease should not be shared with others.

“The best solution for prevention is to maintain proper hygiene and sanitise the surrounding environment,” the advisory said.

The disease is diagnosed by molecular and serological tests used to detect infections such as chikungunya, Zika, herpes and dengue.

Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, an infectious diseases expert and former president of the Indian Medical Association of Cochin in Kerala, said that the name tomato flu was misleading and that there was no reason for panic.

“This is a common viral illness commonly affecting young children and has been around for a long time,” he told The National.

Updated: August 25, 2022, 8:20 AM