Tomato flu: The suspected new virus affecting children in India

It is as of yet unclear if the flu is caused by a new virus or is an aftereffect of a known virus.

 A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin, October 2, 2009 (photo credit: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)
A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin, October 2, 2009
(photo credit: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

A suspected new virus known as tomato flu or tomato fever has been discovered, affecting mostly children in the state of Kerala in India, according to a new correspondence by medical professionals from India and Australia published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine last Wednesday.

What is tomato flu?

The suspected virus is described as in an endemic state and is considered non-life-threatening. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, body aches and rashes. According to the correspondence, the flu could be an after-effect of chikungunya or dengue fever in children or a new variant of hand, foot and mouth disease.

The flu got its name from the red and painful blisters that appear across the body of patients and gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato. The blisters resemble those caused by monkeypox, according to the correspondence.

The flu was first detected in the Kollam district of Kerala on May 6, 2022, and as of July 26, over 82 children below the age of 5 have been infected in the state. 26 cases in children between the ages of 1-9 were also found in the Indian state of Odisha. No other regions in India have reported cases.

 A biohazard warning sign is displayed at the Yemaachi Biotechnology cancer research laboratory in Accra, Ghana May 19, 2022. Picture taken May 19, 2022 (credit: FRANCIS KOKOROKO/REUTERS) A biohazard warning sign is displayed at the Yemaachi Biotechnology cancer research laboratory in Accra, Ghana May 19, 2022. Picture taken May 19, 2022 (credit: FRANCIS KOKOROKO/REUTERS)

How do you treat tomato flu?

The flu generally resolves itself without the need for treatment and no specific drug exists to treat it as of yet.

The correspondence warned that the tomato flu is very contagious and that any patients or suspected patients should be placed in careful isolation and that other precautionary steps should be taken as well. Isolation should continue for 5-7 days from symptom onset.

While the correspondence stated that the cause of the flu was unclear, Dr. Suresh Kumar Panuganti, pediatrician, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad, told The Hindu that the flu is caused by Coxsackievirus A16, one of the viruses associated with hand, foot and mouth disease in infants and young children.