What is ‘tomato flu’ and should you be worried?

arms of person with tomato flu

A mystery virus is causing concern on the international scene, just months after monkeypox became a household word.

It has been dubbed ‘tomato flu’.

Almost four months ago, a paper in the medical journal The Lancet reported multiple cases of an unknown respiratory virus in the Indian state of Kerala.

While most would assume a viral respiratory infection in 2022 is likely due to COVID, these patients were also suffering from large red blisters that were causing a lot of pain – hence the name ‘tomato flu’.

“Its symptoms are similar to dengue fever and Chikungunya virus, which are common in the area, but it doesn’t appear to be them,” says Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos, co-author of the study.

Read: COVID is far from over, health expert warns

“It looks like the virus is mild and goes away on its own, but most people who have had this infection are young, and we don’t really know what might happen in an immunocompromised person or if it spreads to elderly people.”

So far, all reported cases have been in children under 10 years of age. But as the full pathology of tomato flu is still unknown, it may be possible for older people to contract the virus.

Tomato flu also bears a striking resemblance to hand, foot and mouth disease and may even be a variant.

At least 82 cases have been reported by Indian authorities since May, and there are concerns the virus could reach Australia.

Read: Monkeypox has been declared a global emergency

The outbreak in India was detected by EPIWATCH, an AI-driven system that uses open-source global health data to identify early epidemic signals from around the world. EPIWATCH is operated by the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute.

Ashley Quigley, team leader of the EPIWATCH program, told News Corp she believes the risk of tomato flu arriving in Australia is real.

“I think it’s realistic to think that it could get here,” she said.

“If we start seeing reports in other neighbouring countries, and we can track it back and say in two months it’s in three to five different countries, then the likelihood is actually very high of it coming to Australia.

Read: How an Australian ‘centre for disease control’ could work

“But in the last two or three months, it has remained in India.”

Sarah Pitt, principal lecturer in microbiology and biomedical science at the University of Brighton wrote in The Conversation that viruses had been doing strange things since the COVID pandemic started.

“For example seasonal winter viruses spread in summer 2020, and no-one is entirely sure what caused the outbreak of hepatitis in children in 2021,” she said. “And until 2022, monkeypox outbreaks outside of Africa only involved small numbers of people.”

Are you worried about the transmission of new viruses? Is our interconnected world resulting in more and more health worries? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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