What is this Tomato Flu?
Tomato Flu is named after the tomato-like round blisters formed on different parts of the body. The first case was detected in Kerala on 6th May 2022 in the Kollam district of Kerala. The cause of the disease was unclear, and various factors were believed to cause Tomato Flu and were also feared to be related to the COVID-causing SARS virus. It was considered an after-effect of Dengue fever or Chikungunya in children. But recent research and studies have reported the illness to be a variation of a hand, foot, and mouth disease, a common condition affecting children. It is a rare viral infection and is a non-life threatening disease, according to The Lancet.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is an infectious disease caused by human coxsackievirus that spreads faster through the infected child’s nose and throat secretions, stools, and the fluid from blisters and scabs. The disease usually causes fever and flu-like symptoms, mouth sores, and a skin rash, the CDC says.
The disease has spread very fast, and till July 26, more than 82 children younger than five years have been reported to be affected by the local government hospitals. The endemic has affected areas of Kerala such as Anchal, Aryankavu, and Neduvathur, alerting the neighbouring states, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Not only Kerala but about 26 cases have been reported in Odisha by the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar. The primary states affected to date, apart from Kerala, are Tamil Nadu, Haryana, and Odisha. Until now, most of the reported cases of Tomato Flu are among children below nine years.
Early signs of the Tomato Flu
- It begins with mild fever, poor appetite, severe body aches, and sore throat.
- Discoloration and irritation of the skin
- Fatigue and tiredness
Symptoms of Tomato Flu
The main symptoms are fever, rashes, pain, swelling in joints, fatigue, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. The symptoms of Tomato flu are very similar to chikungunya or dengue infection and common flu. Other symptoms are painful sores in the mouth, blisters on hands, feet, and buttocks, runny nose, and sneezing with frequent coughing.
Is Tomato Flu contagious?
Tomato flu is a highly infectious condition that spreads through close and direct contact from person to person. It is prevalent in school-going children due to a lack of hygiene. In addition, adults may transmit the virus while handling children without showing any signs and symptoms of the disease.
What are the causes of Tomato Flu?
The exact causative factor of Tomato Flu is unknown. It can be an after-effect of mosquito-borne illnesses Chikungunya or dengue fever, or it could be a new variant of coxsackie virus, which causes Hand, foot, and mouth disease, according to The Lancet. However, recent reports suggest that it is a Coxsackie A 17-like virus belonging to the group of enteroviruses. In addition, it is a clinical variant of the viral Hand, foot, and mouth disease, a common infectious disease that targets children between 1-10 years and immune-compromised adults.
The centre claims that Tomato flu has no link with coronavirus, dengue, Chikungunya, and monkeypox. Instead, reports say Tomato Flu is a self-limiting disease primarily targeting young children between 1 to 10 years of age and adults with weak immunity.
How long are Tomato Flu symptoms last?
Tomato flu is self-limiting, and no specific drug exists to treat it. It can last for a few days or a few weeks. However, even after the symptoms disappear, the children could still have the virus in the body and may act as a carrier.
Diagnosis of Tomato Flu
In the suspected cases, molecular and serological tests are conducted for dengue, Chikungunya, Zika virus, varicella-zoster virus, and herpes. Once ruled out, it may be considered Tomato Flu.
Treatment for Tomato Flu
Tomato Flu is a self-limiting disease and goes away on its own once it runs its course. The treatment is mainly symptom-based, as there are no specific drugs for this disease. Proper sanitization and personal hygiene should be followed to prevent the further spread of this disease.
If a child is affected, they should be kept in isolation for at least five to seven days as it spreads fast from one person to other. It is advised to give plenty of fluids and a hot water sponge to clean the rashes.
How can you protect yourself from Tomato Flu?
Thankfully the mortality rate of this disease is not high and can be treated easily. Some of the ways to protect from Tomato Flu are:
- Drink more water, juices, and liquids
- Drink boiled and cooled water
- Avoid touching the blisters
- Maintain good personal hygiene
- Maintain distance from suspected cases physically
- Take sufficient rest to avoid the long-lasting effects of Tomato Flu
- Patients should be isolated immediately. Take enough rest, stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid close contact to prevent disease transmission
- Advise the children not to hug or touch children having fever or rash symptoms
- Educate and encourage your children about personal hygiene maintenance and get rid of thumb or finger sucking habits
- Encourage the child to use a handkerchief
- Try to keep your child hydrated by motivating them to drink plenty of water, milk, or juice.
- Use warm water to clean the skin of the affected child
- Provide the children with well-balanced food to improve their strength and fasten the recovery
- Get enough rest and sleep
- The best prevention solution is maintaining good hygiene and sanitization of the surrounding areas and living environment, preventing the infected children from sharing their toys, clothes, food, or other items with other non-infected children.
How widely is it spreading in India?
India has recorded over 100 tomato flu cases in four states – Haryana, Odisha, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Most patients are of the age of 1-9 years.
After coronavirus and monkeypox, Tomato Flu is spreading faster in India as around 82 cases of Tomato Flu have already been reported in India since May 2022. Kerala reported the first case of the Tomato virus on May 6, 2022. However, the infection is spreading fast across the neighboring states. About 100 cases of Tomato Flu have been reported in children below nine years of age in India from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, and Odisha. Hence the union health ministry has issued an advisory note on Tomato flu, especially for school-going children.
How is the Indian government fighting the disease?
The central government has come up with prevention strategies for the disease. The Centre has urged people to follow proper hygiene and sanitization of the surroundings to prevent the infection from spreading among children through sharing toys, clothes, food, or other items with other non-infected children. They also rolled out an advisory on the Tomato Flu. Some of the points are:
- Follow proper hygiene.
- Parents should educate their children about the symptoms and signs of the disease.
- The health authorities should sanitize all the areas to prevent the spread of flu from sharing toys, clothes, food, or other items among children.
- Infected children should stay isolated for 5-7 days from the onset of symptoms.
Why does it attack children?
The Lancet study states that this typical contagious disease targets children between one and five years of age and adults with weak immune systems. The disease reportedly affects the mouth, hand, and foot. Children are at increased risk of exposure as viral infections are common in this age group as they have close contact, touch unclean surfaces, and put things directly into their mouths. However, it could put older adults at risk if the outbreak is uncontrolled and the disease transmission is limited.
Tomato Flu is not a fatal disease, but it is very contagious and can spread faster from person to person since the targets are primarily children below nine. There is no definitive treatment for Tomato Flu, but it can be treated symptomatically.
The central and state governments have taken immediate steps and initiatives to prevent and control the outbreak. The districts in Karnataka’s border towns were immediately alerted. Still, within a week of the first case in Kerala, Tamil Nadu began mandatory screening of kids under five years of age from entering their border. Local authorities of Kerala have taken the initiative to clean the water bodies and advised the public to follow personal hygiene and proper sanitation of their living spaces to control the situation.
The health ministers of various states have started rapid communications to reduce panic and provide regular updates on the spread of the disease. In addition, many awareness programs have been set up effectively, with Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu state health departments encouraging field workers to educate people on the disease. Though tomato flu is unlikely to become a significant and dangerous disease, the public health approach towards it shows that the lessons learned during the Covid pandemic will be used to control and prevent other illnesses effectively.