As the medical fraternity and scientists across India worry about the rising number of coronavirus infections, another malaise called tomato flu is spreading in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Even though the virus is not life-threatening, the dreadful experience with the Covid-19 pandemic is making doctors and policy makers take serious note of the outbreak.
Around 82 cases of tomato flu or tomato fever have been reported in India since May 2022, reveals a Lancet study. Kerala was the first to report an infection on May 6, 2022. The rare viral infection is now in an endemic state in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Odisha.
What is tomato flu?
The viral infection is a contagious disease that generally affects children between ages one and five years. However, adults with weaker immunity are also prone to infection that affects the mouth, hand and foot. Tomato fever is named so because of the red and painful blisters that appear throughout and grow gradually to the size of a tomato. This disease was first identified in Kerala’s Kollam district.
To date, no causes have been identified for tomato flu. The health authorities are still scrambling to find the cause of infection. However, there is a consensus that the disease may not be a viral infection, but an after-effect of chikungunya. Tomato Flu shows symptoms similar to those of Covid-19 such as fever, fatigue, and body aches, but is not related to SARS COV-2.
Tomato flu also has symptoms similar to other diseases such as dengue and chikungunya. Body aches, skin irritation, fever, vomiting, and swelling of joints are some of the symptoms it shares with dengue and chikungunya.
Skin irritation is one of the most common symptoms of a tomato flu-infected person. Legs and hands are also likely to get discoloured if one catches it. Amid other common symptoms are fatigue, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea. Coughing, fever, sneezing or runny nose have also been reported as possible symptoms which are also common to Covid-19.
Children are at an increased risk of exposure to tomato fever as viral infections are common in this age group. Amid children, the spread is likely to be through close contact. Young children are also prone to this infection through use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, as well as putting things directly into the mouth.
Preventing tomato flu
The mortality rate in this disease is not high and the malaise can be treated easily. The precautions are simple — drinking more water, juices and liquid content, preferably more boiled water; avoiding touching the blisters; and maintaining good personal hygiene and physically distancing from suspected cases. Patients showing the symptoms listed above are advised to go through molecular and serological tests for the diagnosis of the zika virus, chikungunya, and dengue.
Tomato flu is a self-limiting illness and no specific drug exists to treat it. The known treatment for Tomato flu is also similar to the treatment of chikungunya and dengue. Patients are advised to isolate rest, stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. According to the Lancet study, paracetamol for fever and body ache and other symptomatic treatments can be used.
Currently, drug repurposing and vaccination are the most efficacious and cost-effective approaches to ensure the safety of public from viral infections. This becomes especially pertinent considering that the coronavirus pandemic is not yet gone and the world is also witnessing an outbreak of monkey pox.