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 the hand-foot-and-mouth disease: the mild and contagious viral infection that is common in younger children and that usually generates outbreaks in schools. “The Tomato Flu it is not a new disease. In India there was an outbreak of at least 82 cases and several Hindu 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 call mouth-hand-foot”, explains to this newspaper the epidemiologist Antoni Trilla, Head of Preventive Medicine at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona. In addition to the cases in India, England identified two infections in children who came from Kerala, the region in which the outbreak originated. “In the English cases, the foot-and-mouth virus was identified,” says Trilla.

Despite this, it is not yet known for sure what this new infection is, but everything indicates that it is the virus coxsackievirus, a kind of enteroviruses that affects the child population and that are frequent in Asian countries. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease affects is common in children between one and 10 years old. “Is a benign disease, that heals itself, but no treatment and it is very cumbersome because it involves skin lesions”, says the head of the Microbiology Service of the Hospital Vall d’HebronTomas 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 painting flu-like” adds Pumarola. The symptom are fever, feeling weak, joint pain and, in this case, a noticeable skin rashes in the mouth, hands and feet (“it looks a bit like chicken pox”, needs threshing).

“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 a underreporting of infections. 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 Hindu population that has made the disease has changed a little” reflect.

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 the tomato flu because we come from a pandemic and everything is given a lot of importance. But we cannot be alarmed every time 50 cases of a still undefined disease appear,” Cayla reflects.

How is it spread?

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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is easily spread from one person to another through contact with stool and the nose secretions (mucus) or mouth (saliva). Also through the droplets 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 long on objects (such as tissues, toys, tables, sheets, or towels), something that facilitates its transmission. From the time a child is infected until he begins with symptoms, between three and six days.


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