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Researchers look into rare ‘tomato flu’ circulating in India

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Picture: Ted S Warren/AP – A patient receives a shot in the first-stage study of a potential vaccine for Covid-19, in March 20, 2020. Researchers have dubbed a viral outbreak as the ‘tomato flu’, which while not life-threatening, is a self-limiting illness and there are currently no specific drugs to treat it, the writer says.

By Kelly-Jane Turner

A viral outbreak that has been dubbed by researchers as the “tomato flu” has affected at least 100 children in India.

Researchers published a correspondence in the Lancet saying that while the virus is considered non-life-threatening, because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, there must be vigilance in managing the virus to prevent further outbreaks.

“Similar to other types of influenza, tomato flu is very contagious. Hence, it is mandatory to follow careful isolation of confirmed or suspected cases and other precautionary steps to prevent the outbreak of the tomato flu virus from Kerala to other parts of India,” the researchers said.

The rare viral infection ‘tomato flu’ gained its name due to the eruption of red and sometimes painful blisters on the body that can gradually enlarge to the size of a tomato.

The first case of the new mysterious illness was reported on May 6 and the virus presents with similar symptoms to Covid-19. Both are associated with fever, fatigue, and body aches initially, and some patients with Covid-19 also report rashes on the skin.

While the two viruses are similar, they are not related according to researchers.

Co-author of the Lancet paper, Professor Vasco Apostolopoulos from Victoria University immunology, said the tomato flu is very contagious and the best solution for prevention is to maintain good hygiene and sanitisation.

The virus has mostly been found in children between the ages of 1-5 years and in some immunocompromised adults. It is a self-limiting illness and there are currently no specific drugs to treat it. Children appear to be at an increased risk of exposure to tomato flu as the virus can be transmitted through use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces, as well as putting things directly into the mouth.

Scientists have theorised that the disease might be a new type of hand, foot, and mouth disease, and if not controlled, transmission could lead to serious consequences by spreading in adults as well.

One million Covid-19 deaths in 2022 so far, a tragic milestone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday revealed that one million Covid-19 deaths have been recorded in 2022.

The organisation’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it is a “tragic milestone” and that it should lead to more people being vaccinated against the disease.

“We cannot say we are learning to live with Covid-19 when one million people have died with Covid-19 this year alone, when we are two-and-a-half years into the pandemic and have all the tools necessary to prevent these deaths,” he said during a media briefing.

Since the onset of the pandemic, 6.4 million people have died from the virus. In South Africa, over 102,000 people have died from Covid-19 related illness.

Tedros urged governments to vaccinate all health workers, the elderly, and others at highest risk, as part of efforts towards inoculating 70 percent of the global population.

In South Africa, Covid-19 cases have been low since the unofficial fifth wave in May, however, experts say the country should brace for another potential wave.

Speaking to eNCA, virologist Professor Barry Schoub says the country reports around 200 cases daily which is far lower than cases recorded in the midst of previous peaks.

“We can afford at this stage to release some of those restrictions but the big problem we have in South Africa is our low vaccine uptake. It is very low and we need to increase it quite urgently because we are not out of the woods at the moment,” he said.

Breakthrough infections recorded in monkeypox cases

Breakthrough infections have been reported in people who had been vaccinated against monkeypox, according to the WHO.

The JYNNEOS vaccine has been recommended by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people determined to be at high risk for infection to prevent monkeypox disease.

Data from the 1980s has shown that the vaccine was at least 85 percent effective, however, there is not enough recent available data on the efficacy of the JYNNEOS shot.

Dr Rosamund Lewis, WHO’s Technical Lead for monkeypox, said during a press conference that they cannot expect 100 percent vaccine effectiveness at the moment.

“The fact that we’re beginning to see some breakthrough cases is also really important information because it tells us that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective in any given circumstance, whether preventive or post-exposure,” she said.

Tedros said there are signs that the outbreak is slowing in Europe. A combination of effective public health measures, behaviour change, and vaccination, are helping to prevent transmission.

“However, in Latin America in particular, insufficient awareness or public health measures are combining with a lack of access to vaccines to fan the flames of the outbreak,” he said.

Currently, there are five reported cases of monkeypox in South Africa, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla confirmed last week.

The most recent case is that of a 28-year-old man from Johannesburg with a travel history to the Netherlands and Spain.

Kelly-Jane Turner is a multi-media journalist at IOL and ANA.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.