What is 'tomato flu'? 'Very contagious' new virus detected in young children, doctors warn

While the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and the re-emergence of monkeypox, a new virus spreading among young children in India has medical experts concerned.

"Tomato flu" was first identified on May 6 in the Kollam district of Kerala, according to an article in The Lancet, and has so far infected at least 82 children who are all younger than five years old. Additionally, 26 further children under the age of 10 are suspected to have the disease.

The virus gets its name from the red and painful blisters it produces throughout the body that gradually grow to the size of a tomato, The Lancet said. The blisters are somewhat similar to those that come from a monkeypox infection.

Rashes also appear on the skin with tomato flu which lead to skin irritation. More symptoms of this virus include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration, swelling of joints, body aches, and common influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to those found with dengue fever.

Doctors wrote for The Lancet article that tomato flu is a rare viral infection in an endemic state and it is considered non-life-threatening, although "vigilant management" is needed to prevent further outbreaks.

"Children are at increased risk of exposure to tomato flu as viral infections are common in this age group and spread is likely to be through close contact," the study said.

There are no antiviral drugs or vaccines available for tomato flu yet and the study warns this virus is "very contagious".

"Given the similarities to hand, foot, and mouth disease, if the outbreak of tomato flu in children is not controlled and prevented, transmission might lead to serious consequences by spreading in adults as well.

"The best solution for prevention is the maintenance of proper hygiene and sanitisation of the surrounding necessities and environment as well as preventing the infected child from sharing toys, clothes, food, or other items with other non-infected children."

Dr Subhash Chandra, assistant professor of internal medicine at Amrita Hospital in Kochi, India, said anyone who gets tomato fever should drink a lot of fluids and spend time on bed rest.

"It is not a life-threatening disease but it is contagious and can spread from person to person, though the real modes of spread of infection are still under investigation," Dr Chandra told India Today.

Any confirmed or suspected cases are urged to isolate for five to seven days from symptom onset to prevent the spread of infection to other children or adults.