The tomato flu (‘tomato flu’), the new disease discovered in India, is most probably a clinical variant of the hand-foot-mouth disease: the mild contagious viral infection which is common in younger children and which 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 influenza and that it reminded them of a very common disease called boca-mano-pie”, explains to this newspaper the epidemiologist Antoni Trilla, Head of Preventive Medicine, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona. In addition to cases in India, England identified two contagions in children who came from Kerala, the region where the outbreak originated. “In the English cases, mouth-hand-foot-mouth virus was identified,” notes Trilla.
Despite this, it is not yet known for sure what this new infection is, but everything points to it being the virus coxsackievirus, a type of enterovirus which affect the infant population and are common in Asian countries. Mouth-hand-foot disease affects is common in children between the ages of one and 10 years. “It is a benign disease, which cures itself, but there is no treatment and it’s very messy because it involves skin lesions,” says the head of the Microbiology Service of the Hospital Vall d’HebronTomàs Pumarola.
No flu, no relation with tomato
“That of calling it tomato flu, which is taken by tweezers. [ni es gripe, ni está relacionada con los tomates]comes from the fact that it has a similar to the flu”, Pumarola adds. The symptoms are fever, sensation of weakness, joint pains and, in this case, some striking skin eruptions on the mouth, hands and feet (“looks a little like chickenpox”, precise Trilla).
“It is not serious and mankind will not experience a pandemic of it, but it must be followed very closely,” say epidemiologists.
Although the letter in ‘The Lancet Respiratory Medicine’ reports 82 cases of tomato flu in India, epidemiologists believe that more cases will have since occurred because of its high contagiousness. In fact, given that 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 coxsackievirus, the mouth-hand-foot-mouth disease virus, already exists here. “There is probably some factor in the Hindu population that has made the disease has changed a little bit.” he reflects.
Even so, the epidemiologist Joan Caylà believes that, despite the disease’s “is not serious” nor humanity “will experience a pandemic of it”, it has to be “followed very closely”. “Now there is a lot of talk about tomato flu because we come from a pandemic and anything is given a lot of importance. But we can’t be alarmed every time 50 cases of an as-yet-undefined disease appear.” Caylà reflects.
How does it spread?
Hand-foot-mouth disease is easily transmitted from one person to another through contact with the feces and the secretions from the nose (mucus) or the mouth (saliva). Also through the droplets that are released when coughing.
Children can shed and transmit the virus before onset of symptoms (i.e., during the incubation period), while they are ill and even several weeks after they are cured. In addition, this type of virus can also survive for a long time in objects (such as handkerchiefs, toys, tables, sheets, or towels), something that facilitates its transmission. From the time a child becomes infected until he/she starts showing symptoms, it takes a long time from the time he/she becomes infected to the time he/she starts showing symptoms. between three and six days.