What Is Tomato Flu, the Contagious New Illness Detected in India?

  • Tomato flu is a new illness detected in India.
  • More than 82 children have been infected so far.
  • As of now, it’s not entirely clear what causes the illness.

People have been on high alert for new illnesses since the COVID-19 pandemic began and fair. In the past two years, there have been several variants of the virus that have spread around the globe, along with monkeypox. Well, now, there’s another new illness making headlines: It’s called tomato flu, or tomato fever, and it’s causing an outbreak in India.

More than 82 children between the ages of one and five have been diagnosed with the virus since July 26, per a new paper published in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The virus started in the southern Indian state Kerala and has spread to two other regions.

Given how quickly other viruses have spread across the globe in the past few years, it’s understandable to have some questions and concerns. Here’s what you need to know.

What is tomato flu?

Also known as tomato fever, tomato flu is a rare viral infection that’s considered non life-threatening, according to The Lancet.

“This illness just appears to be a variation on hand, foot, and mouth disease—a very common child on the illness,” explains infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a very contagious disease caused by the coxsackievirus that spreads easily through an infected person’s nose and throat secretions, poop, and fluid from blisters and scabs that can form from the virus, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The illness usually causes fever and flu-like symptoms, mouth sores, and a skin rash, the CDC says.

What causes tomato flu?

“It’s not entirely clear at this point,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York.

Tomato flu could be an after-effect of mosquito-borne illnesses Chikungunya or dengue fever, The Lancet says, or it could be a new variant of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Symptoms of tomato flu

Researchers are still sorting this out, but there are certain symptoms that patients have had so far, according to The Lancet. Those include:

That can be followed by rashes on the skin.

Is tomato flu life-threatening?

As of now, tomato flu does not appear to be life-threatening. The Lancet paper noted 82 cases of the illness, and none of the patients died. Tomato flu is “not serious,” Dr. Adalja says, although Dr. Russo points out that the rash can be uncomfortable.

How is tomato flu treated?

Tomato flu will go away on its own and there is no specific drug to treat it, The Lancet says. However, patients could be treated with OTC fever-reducing medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Dr. Russo says.

How concerned should you be about tomato flu?

As of now, experts say you shouldn’t panic. “Parents in the US have a lot more important things to worry about right now than tomato flu,” Dr. Russo says.

But Dr. Adalja says he expects tomato flu will spread outside of the areas where it’s currently circulating. “Because these types of infections are caused by ubiquitous viruses that are contagious, it’s not something I expect to see restricted to one geographic region,” he says. “However this is not an infectious disease that merits worry.”

If tomato flu is, in fact, a form of hand, foot, and mouth disease, Dr. Russo says it has the potential to spread across the world. “The coxsackievirus is worldwide and infectious—and can easily spread,” Dr. Russo says.

Ultimately, Dr. Russo says, “there’s much work to do to understand this virus more.”

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