Tomato flu is a mutation of the hand-foot-and-mouth virus.
Tomato flu (‘tomato flu’), 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 children smaller and that usually generates 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 that it was not the flu and that it reminded them of a very common disease called mouth-hand-foot”, the 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 region where the outbreak began. “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, which heals on its own, 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.
“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, a feeling of weakness, joint pain and, in this case, striking skin rashes on the mouth, hands and feet. “It looks a bit like chicken pox,” says Trilla.
Trilla does not believe that the disease will reach Spain, because the coxsackievirus, the hand-foot-and-mouth disease virus, already exists here. “There is 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 “is not serious” nor will humanity “experience a pandemic of that”, it must be “followed very closely”. “Now there is a lot of talk about the 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 not yet defined appear.