04.12.2022

Warning over brand new ‘tomato flu’ virus detected in India that infects 82 children

Doctors in India have sounded the alarm over a new virus dubbed ‘tomato flu‘ that has infected dozens of children. The infection was spotted in May in the southern state of Kerala and it is feared to be a new variant of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Experts are also probing whether it is the after-effect of a mosquito-borne infection but they have not ruled out an entirely new pathogen. So far 82 children under five have been diagnosed with tomato fever since May and a further 26 youngsters up to age 10 are suspected cases.

The infection gained its name because it causes an ‘eruption’ of red painful blisters across patients’ bodies that ‘gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato’.

Most patients also suffer high fever and intense joint pain, but fatigue, sickness and diarrhoea have also been reported.

Doctors say it is ‘very contagious’ and they fear it could spill into adult populations if the current outbreak is not brought under control.

It comes as the world still reels from the Covid pandemic — and amid a global outbreak of monkeypox.

The virus was first spotted in Kollam, eastern Kerala on May 6 (red), and the last case was on July 26. Infections have been logged in three other parts of Kerala – Anchal, Aryankavu, and Neduvathur. And a further 26 infections have been reported among one to nine-year-olds in north eastern state Odisha (orange)

Doctors in India have sounded the alarm over a new virus dubbed ‘tomato flu’ that has infected dozens of children. No pictures of the rash caused by the virus have been published but it triggers red painful blisters and rashes across patients’ bodies

Writing in scientific journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, medics said: ‘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, as well as 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.’

WHAT IS TOMATO FLU?

What is tomato flu?

Experts don’t yet know what is behind more than 100 under-nines falling ill India.

Although some symptoms – fever, fatigue and aches – overlap with Covid, the two viruses are unrelated.

The medics believe the virus could be a new variant of hand, foot and mouth disease — a common infection that mainly affects young children and immunocompromised adults.

However, they noted the symptoms could also be an ‘after-effect’ of dengue fever or chikungunya — diseases transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos.

Where has it been spotted?

Tomato fever has only been reported in India.

It was first spotted in Kollam, in the southern state of Kerala on May 6.

It has since caused 82 infections among under-fives in Kerala by July 26.

And a further 26 infections have been reported among one to nine-year-olds in north eastern state Odisha.

The Kerala Health Department is monitoring the spread and has put neighbouring states Tamil Nadu, directly to the east, and Karnataka, just north of Kerla, on alert.

What are the symptoms?

Sufferers develop painful red blisters all over their body that ‘gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato’, the medics said.

They noted that the blisters ‘resemble those see with the monkeypox virus in young individuals’.

On top of the blisters, patients suffer fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration, swollen joints and body aches.

The main symptoms observed in children with tomato flu are similar to those of chikungunya — a viral disease similar to dengue that is transmitted by mosquitoes and is endemic in parts of India.

The 82 children diagnosed with tomato fever were initially tested negative for dengue, chikungunya, zika virus, varicella-zoster virus, and herpes — but came back negative.

On top of the blisters, patients suffer fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration, swollen joints and body aches.

There is currently no test or treatment for the virus.

Medics say all patients should be isolated for five to seven days from symptom onset and told to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol.

Sponges dipped in warm water can be applied to limit the irritation from the rash, they recommend.

The virus was first spotted in Kollam, eastern Kerala on May 6, and the last case was on July 26.

Infections have been logged in three other parts of Kerala – Anchal, Aryankavu, and Neduvathur.

And a further 26 infections have been reported among one to nine-year-olds in north eastern state Odisha.

The Kerala Health Department is monitoring the spread and has put neighbouring states Tamil Nadu, directly to the east, and Karnataka, just north of Kerla, on alert.

The experts, from the L. M. College of Pharmacy in Gujarat, north India, and Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, noted that the virus is not life-threatening.

All  known sufferers have recovered naturally within a week or two.

The origins of the infection are still unclear. Although some symptoms – fever, fatigue and aches – overlap with Covid, the two viruses are unrelated.

The medics believe the virus could be a new variant of hand, foot and mouth disease — a common infection that mainly affects young children and immunocompromised adults.

However, they noted the symptoms could also be a new ‘after-effect’ of dengue fever or chikungunya that happens days after the body clears those infections.

It comes as the world is grappling with other outbreaks on top of recurring waves of Covid.

More than 35,000 monkeypox cases have been reported worldwide, of which 3,195 are in the UK and 14,115 in the US.

Vaccine rollouts are taking place worldwide in a bid to stem the spread of the rash-causing virus, which has mainly been detected among men who have sex with men.

Meanwhile, Langya virus, which causes mild flu-like symptoms, has been detected among 35 people in China, initially sparking fears of a repeat of the 2020 pandemic.

But top scientists have since assured the public that it is nothing like Covid, as it is not spreading fast in humans.

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