Tomato flu is a mutation of the hand-foot-and-mouth virus.

The tomato flu (‘tomato flu’, in English), the new disease discovered in India, is most likely a clinical variant of hand-foot-and-mouth disease: the mild and contagious viral infection that is common in younger children and often causes outbreaks in schools.

Tomato flu is not a new disease. In India there was an outbreak of at least 82 cases and several Indian doctors sent a letter to ‘The Lancet Respiratory Medicine’ [publicada el 17 de agosto]. They said it wasn’t the flu and that it reminded them of a very common disease called mouth-hand-foot,” epidemiologist Antoni Trilla, Head of Preventive Medicine at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, ​​explains to this newspaper. In addition to the cases in India, England identified two infections in children who came from Kerala, the Indian region in which the outbreak was born.”In the English cases, the mouth-hand-foot virus was identified,” says Trilla.

Despite this, it is not yet known for sure what this new infection is, but everything points to it being the coxsackievirus, a type of enterovirus that affects children and is common in Asian countries. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease affects children between the ages of one and 10 years. “It is a benign disease that heals itself.but there is no treatment and it is very cumbersome because it involves skin lesions”, says the head of the Vall d’Hebron Hospital Microbiology Service, Tomàs Pumarola.

Neither flu, nor relationship with the tomato

“That thing about calling it tomato flu, which is caught by tweezers [ni es gripe, ni está relacionada con los tomates]it comes from having a picture similar to the flu”, adds Pumarola. The symptoms are fever, feeling weak, joint pain and, in this case, some striking skin rashes on the mouth, hands and feet (“it looks a bit like chickenpox,” says Trilla).

“It is not serious nor will humanity experience a pandemic of that, but it must be followed very closely,” say epidemiologists

Although the letter from ‘The Lancet Respiratory Medicine’ reports 82 cases of tomato flu in India, epidemiologists believe that more cases have occurred since then due to its high contagiousness. In fact, since there are very mild cases, it is assumed that there is an underreporting of infections. Trilla does not believe that the disease will reach Spain, because the coxsackievirus already exists here, hand-foot-and-mouth disease virus. “There’s probably some factor in the Indian population that has caused the disease to change a little bit,” she muses.

Even so, the epidemiologist Joan Caylà believes that, despite the fact that the disease “it is not serious” nor will humanity “live through a pandemic of that”, must be “followed very closely”. “Now there is a lot of talk about tomato flu because we are coming from a pandemic and everything is given a lot of importance. But we cannot be alarmed every time 50 cases of a disease that has not yet been defined appear,” reflects Caylà.

How is it spread?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is easily spread from one person to another through contact with feces and secretions from the nose (mucus) or mouth (saliva). Also through the droplets that are released when coughing.

Children can shed and transmit the virus before symptoms start (that is, during the incubation period), while they are sick, and even for several weeks after they are cured. In addition, this type of virus can also survive for a long time on objects (such as handkerchiefs, toys, tables, sheets, or towels), something that facilitates its transmission. Between three and six days pass from the moment a child becomes infected until symptoms begin.

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