Doctors have sounded an alarm over the “emergence of new non-life-threatening” virus called tomato flu among the children below five years of age. In the recent Lancet Respiratory Journal, published on August 17, the doctors said that the flu was first identified in the Kollam district of Kerala on May 6, 2022, and as of July 26, “more than 82 children younger than 5 years with the infection have reported by the local government hospitals.
It further said that this endemic viral illness triggered an alert to the neighbouring States of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. 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,’’ noted the article.
The primary symptoms observed in children with tomato flu are similar to those of chikungunya, which include high fever, rashes, and intense pain in joints. As with other viral infections, further symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, swelling of joints, body aches, and common influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to those manifested in dengue.
Because tomato flu is similar to chikungunya and dengue as well as hand, foot, and mouth disease, the treatment is also similar — isolation, rest, plenty of fluids, and hot water sponge for the relief of irritation and rashes. Supportive therapy of paracetamol for fever and bodyache and other symptomatic treatments are required.
Lancet notes that similar to other types of influenza, tomato flu is very contagious and children are at increased risk of exposure to tomato flu as viral infections are common in this age group and spread is likely to be through close contact.
Young children are also prone to this infection through use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, and putting things directly into the mouth. 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, the report said.
“The ‘tomato flu’ is caused by Coxsackie virus A 16. It belongs to Enterovirus family. Hand-foot-and-mouth-disease (HFMD) is a frequent febrile rash illness of childhood caused by enteroviruses (EV): Coxsackie A16 (CA16), EV A71, Coxsackie A6, Coxsackie B and Echo viruses,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar Panuganti, paediatrician, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad.