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What to know about the ‘tomato flu’ virus doctors are tracking in India


(NEXSTAR) – In case we didn’t have enough viruses to worry about, reports of a “tomato flu” outbreak in India started to surface this month. The virus, named for the bursting red blisters it causes, has infected at least 100 children.

The virus was first identified in Kerala in May, where it infected 82 children – all under the age of 5 – by the end of July, according to The Lancet medical journal. At least 26 more cases were also confirmed in neighboring states of India.

The most common symptoms appear to be fever, joint pain and the rash that gives the virus its new nickname. “Tomato flu gained its name on the basis of the eruption of red and painful blisters throughout the body that gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato,” The Lancet reported.

News outlets started to report on the disease as a “new” virus, but new testing out of the United Kingdom seems to indicate the tomato flu isn’t new at all – nor is it a type of flu.

Viral swabs were taken from two children — who had recently returned from India — showing the bright red rash, reports the British medical journal BMJ. The test came back positive for Coxsackie A16, a pathogen commonly associated with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (or HFMD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HFMD is very common among children, even here in the United States, because of how contagious it is. The symptoms – including fever, mouth sores and skin rashes – last seven to 10 days for most kids.

When there is a rash with HFMD, “the rash usually is not itchy and looks like flat or slightly raised red spots, sometimes with blisters that have an area of redness at their base,” says the CDC.

This common disease may have been initially mistaken as a new “tomato flu” virus because the blisters observed in India were larger.

Doctors in Kerala told BMJ that even in the cases they have seen over the past few months, they have yet to admit any children to the hospital. All of the patients have recovered on their own thus far.


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