Tomato flu: India is battling another outbreak of a “highly communicable” viral disease. While India is still dealing with COVID-19 and monkeypox, a new virus known as tomato flu, or tomato fever, has emerged in India in children younger than 5 years. As per the report published by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, this rare viral infection is endemic in nature and is considered benign. The study states that this disease mainly targets children between 1-5 years of age and adults with weaker immunity.  

The virus was first announced in Kerala on May 6th and since then 82 cases have been reported so far. Moreover, Odisha has also reported 26 cases of tomato flu and all neighboring states are on high alert including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday (23rd August 2022) issued a set of guidelines with respect to the prevention, testing, and treatment of the infection.  

Tomato Flu

Tomata flu was Identified first in Kerala’s Kollam district. Tomato Flu is caused by a virus and shows symptoms similar to that of Covid-19 but does not relate to SARS COV-2. Instead of being a viral infection, Tomato Flu may be an after-effect of Dengue fever or Chikungunya in children. The ‘tomato flu’ is caused by Coxsackievirus A 16 virus. This virus is related to the Enterovirus family. The enteroviruses are a group of RNA viruses. Humans are just the hosts for the enteroviruses (NPEVs).

Relation of Tomato with Tomato Flu

There is a misconception that the flu has some significance with tomatoes. However, the reason why it is called 'Tomato' is because of the presence of red and painful blisters that appear throughout and grow gradually to the size of a tomato. The ‘tomato flu’ is caused by Coxsackievirus A 16 virus.  

Symptoms of Tomato Flu

The primary symptoms which can be seen in patients suffering from tomato flu are skin irritation, decoloration, fatigue, tiredness, coughing and fever, Joint pain, and body ache, other symptoms are mentioned below-

  • Skin irritation: It is one of the most common symptoms of a person infected with this contagious disease
  • Decoloration: Legs and hands get discolored and slightly unidentifiable.
  • Fatigue and tiredness: While fatigue can be common for people who travel a lot, fatigue can be a health risk.
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea: While these symptoms are also common, they can affect your overall health.
  • Coughing, fever, sneezing, or runny nose: These symptoms are quite common in coronavirus as well.
  • Joint pain and body ache: A person infected by Tomato virus-infected person would have difficulty moving smoothly.

Comparison Between Tomato Flu and COVID-19

Tomato Flu is caused by a virus and shows symptoms similar to that of Covid-19 but does not relate to SARS COV-2. There are differences between the two based on the incubation period, the capacity of communicability, treatment, and complication, some other differences are tabulated below-

TopicTomato FluCOVID-19
Incubation or Isolation period5-7 days2-14 days
ContagiousLess contagiousMore contagious
Response to childrenTargets children under the age of 5.People of all ages are getting infected
TreatmentDrugs to fight Chikungunya or Dengue workThere are few FDA drugs approved for oxygen
ComplicationsAre Non-life threatening till nowThere are cases of blood clotting in veins, arteries, lungs, heart, legs, and brain

Causes of Tomato Flu

The exact cause of this highly contagious disease is still unknown but researchers and experts in the medical field are doing further investigations to find out the exact causes of tomato fever. 

Dr. Archana M, Consultant - Paediatric Infectious Disease, Manipal Hospital during an interview with The New Indian Express, said that the medical name of this ‘tomato flu’ is Hand Foot Mouth disease. She further added, “It is caused by viruses from the enterovirus genus, most commonly the coxsackievirus(Coxsackie A16 virus). It is usually noticed among children of less than five years old,”. According to the doctor, tomato flu is a rare highly contagious infection and can spread through close contact and air. Hence, it is advisable to practice isolation. This virus can be caused by dirty surfaces, using diapers, and putting objects directly into their mouths.

Prevention of Tomato Flu

“Prevention is better than cure”, this old saying fits perfectly for tomato flu. Since more researchers and medical experts are understanding the causes and devising a way to treat tomato flu, the best way to keep our children safe from tomato fever is to adopt preventive measures. Following are some precautionary measures to avoid getting this flu:

  1. Avoid close contact with the infected person.
  2. Teach your children about this virus and its effects on the body.
  3. Educate them about the signs and symptoms of tomato fever so that they can maintain distance from any person showing or having those symptoms.
  4. Tell them not to shake hands, play, or hug any child who has symptoms of tomato fever.
  5. Encourage children to maintain hygiene and stop activities that involve bodily fluids like sucking their thumb or picking their nose.
  6. Tell them to use a handkerchief while sneezing or coughing if they have a runny nose or cough to avoid the spread of the disease.
  7. Prevent the infected child from sharing toys, clothes, food, or other items with other non-infected children.
  8. Tell them not to scratch or rub the blister and wash it every time you touch these blisters.
  9. Encourage your children to drink plenty of water, milk, juice, etc. to keep them hydrated.
  10. Isolate your child if they are showing symptoms of tomato fever.
  11. Regularly clean and sanitize all utensils, clothes, toys, and other items of your children.
  12. It is recommended to use warm water to bathe or clean the skin of your child.
  13. Include immunity-boosters and nutrient-rich foods in the diet of your child.

Tomato Flu: Symptoms similar to other diseases

Tomato flu has similarities of symptoms to viral diseases such as Dengue and Chikungunya which causes body aches, skin irritation, fever, vomiting swelling of joints, etc. The origin of the disease and how it spread is still unrevealed. Some experts also believe that this would be an after-effect of Chikungunya.

Treatment of  Tomato Flu/Fever

The known treatment for Tomato flu has similarities to the treatment of Chikungunya and Dengue. Patients are strictly advised to isolate rest, stay hydrated and drink plenty of liquids. Drugs that are useful are "Supportive therapy of paracetamol for fever and body ache and other symptomatic treatments are required," claims the Lancet study.


Tomato Flu - FAQs

Ans. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Odisha, and many others are affected by this tomato flu. The viral infection is also spreading across neighboring states.

Ans. There is no specific treatment needed for tomato fever. The signs and symptoms subside for about 7 to 10 days.

Ans. Yes, a child can take a bath during tomato fever. However, it is recommended to use warm water with a few drops of antiseptics like Dettol in it.

Ans. No, tomato fever is not caused by eating tomatoes. The tomato fever or tomato flu is named so because of the rise of red, painful, and round blisters it causes, which look just like tomatoes.

Ans. Many researchers and medical experts have said that “tomato fever” is a colloquial name for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD). Many studies also suggest that tomato fever might not be a new viral infection but a new variant of HFMD.

Ans. The most common symptoms of tomato flu are fever, skin irritation, discoloration, Fatigue and tiredness, body ache, nausea, vomiting, coughing.

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