The Ministry of Health has allayed fears of a tomato flu/tomato fever outbreak in Kenya.
Believed to be a viral disease, “tomato flu” was first reported in the Kollam district of Kerala, India on May 6, 2022. Since then, there have been about 100 cases of the Tomato Flu in India, all of them among children under the age of nine.
The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal reports that 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. These blisters resemble those seen with the monkeypox virus in young individuals.
“Rashes also appear on the skin with tomato flu that lead to skin irritation. As with other viral infections, further symptoms include, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration, swelling of joints, body aches, and common influenza-like symptoms, which are similar to those manifested in dengue,” Lancet says.
“Although the tomato flu virus shows symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 (both are associated with fever, fatigue, and bodyaches initially, and some patients with COVID-19 also report rashes on the skin), the virus is not related to SARS-CoV-2. Tomato flu could be an after-effect of chikungunya or dengue fever in children rather than a viral infection. The virus could also be a new variant of the viral hand, foot, and mouth disease, a common infectious disease targeting mostly children aged 1–5 years and immunocompromised adults.”
The virus was also reported in the United Kingdom from samples of two children who had travelled to India for holiday. The tests showed they were infected with an enterovirus named coxsackie A16 that causes hand, foot and mouth disease.
Closer home, Acting Director General for Health Dr. Patrick Amoth says the country has not reported any case of tomato flu.
He said there is no cause for alarm but because of travels, they can’t rule anything out.
“Should we record any, we will advise accordingly. It may be far, but we can still record it. In case of any symptoms, we encourage people to report,” Dr Amoth said.
The Lancet journal notes that Tomato virus is considered non-life-threatening but very contagious. It is mostly spread through close contact.
“Young children are also prone to this infection through the use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, as well as putting things directly into the mouth. Given the similarities to hand, foot, and mouth disease,” says the journal.
“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.”
There are no antiviral drugs or vaccines for the treatment or prevention of tomato flu.