What is the ‘tomato flu’? Scientists monitoring outbreak in India

A view of the city skyline seen from the Police Headquarters at ITO during the first day of national lockdown imposed by PM Narendra Modi to curb the spread of coronavirus on March 25, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times vi

Researchers in India say they are monitoring an outbreak of the tomato flu, or tomato fever, in the country — calling it a new virus as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Their findings were recently published in the medical journal "The Lancet," saying cases have been detected in the state of Kerala in children younger than 5 years old. 

They said so far, the rare viral infection is considered non-life threatening but they want to prevent further outbreaks. 

According to the journal, the tomato flu virus has symptoms similar to COVID-19 such as fever, fatigue, and body aches. Symptoms can also include large, red blisters that can become the size of a tomato—hence the name. 

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Researchers believe the virus is "self-limiting" with no specific drug existing to treat it. 

Meanwhile, they believe the virus is spread through close contact and urge people to practice proper hygiene and sanitization. They suggest people who have the virus to isolate five to seven days after the onset of symptoms. 

But whether or not the virus is "new" is up for debate among scientists.

The Lancet reported that the tomato flu was first identified in the Kollam district of Kerala in May 2022. As of July, more than 80 children, younger than 5, were diagnosed with the illness. 

However, doctors in Europe said the tomato flu is not new and is a variant of the hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD), publishing their findings in The BMJ. 

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Currently, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization specifically points out tomato flu. 

Researchers in India said more follow-ups and studies are needed to understand and treat the tomato flu.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.