Pic: Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Odisha (in red) are currently reporting cases of Tomato Flu
An outbreak of a new viral infection, “tomato flu,” that was first detected in children in the southern Indian state of Kerala in May, has now spread to two other states. According to an article in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 82 children aged under five had been diagnosed with the virus in Kerala as of July 26.
“The rare viral infection is in endemic state and is considered non-life-threatening; however, because of the dreadful experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, vigilant management is desirable to prevent further outbreaks,” the Lancet article said.
Cases have now been reported in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state and in Odisha in the east, where children as old as nine have been infected, even though the virus usually affects under-fives.
The spread of tomato flu comes as India has reels under a steady rise in covid cases in the past few weeks, along with cases of swine flu. According to Prof Dileep Mavalankar, Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar: “Swine flu had declined during Covid but it is now on the rise again in big cities. However, because the test is expensive, few people opt for it and so the numbers are unclear.”
It has been referred to as tomato flu because of the painful red blisters it produces on the body. It is very contagious. Children are particularly vulnerable because it spreads easily through close contact, such as via nappies, touching unclean surfaces or putting things in mouths.
“As with other viral infections, additional symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration, joint swelling body aches, and general flu-like symptoms that are similar to those seen with dengue fever,” notes the article.
Doctors say diagnosing tomato flu is difficult because its symptoms are very similar to those of covid, chikungunya and dengue fever. The latter two are common in India during the rainy season and are spread by mosquitoes. Chikungunya is particularly widespread in Kerala. The Lancet article also mentions that “tomato flu could be an after-effect of chikungunya or dengue fever in children rather than a viral infection by itself.”
It adds: “The virus could also be a new variant of the viral hand, foot and mouth disease, a common infectious disease targeting mostly children aged one to five years and immunocompromised adults, and some case studies have even shown hand, foot and mouth disease in immunocompetent adults.”