New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday issued guidelines to states on testing, prevention and treatment of hand, foot, and mouth (HFMD) disease, more commonly known as Tomato Flu, a rare viral disease that has affected children under five years, mainly in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Tomato Flu was first identified in the Kollam district of Kerala on May 6 and by July 26, more than 82 children younger than five years were infected. Apart from Kollam, other areas in Kerala affected are Anchal, Aryankavu and Neduvathur. 

The Union Health Ministry in its advisory said that to date, apart from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Odisha, no other regions in India have reported the disease. 

Additionally, 26 children (aged 1–9 years) have been reported as having the disease in Odisha by the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar. 

The ministry said that although the Tomato Flu virus shows symptoms similar to other viral infections - fever, fatigue, body aches and rashes on the skin - the virus is not at all related to SARS-CoV-2, monkeypox, dengue or chikungunya.

It added that recent reports have suggested it to be Coxsackie A 17 that belongs to the

group of enteroviruses. 

The ministry said the viral disease may be a variant of the common HFMD that is common in school-going children. 

“The disease will best be described as a clinical variant of the viral hand, foot, and mouth disease, a common infectious disease targeting mostly young children aged 1–10 years and immunocompromised adults, and sometimes exposed immune competent adults,” said the guidelines. 

Infants and young children are also prone to this infection through use of nappies, touching unclean surfaces as well as putting things directly into the mouth, the guidelines said. 

The disease is a self-limiting illness and there is no specific drug to treat it. However, there is a need for isolation for 5-7 days from the onset of the symptoms to prevent the spread of infection to other children or adults. 

The name Tomato Flu comes from the main symptom of this disease, the tomato-shaped blisters that appear on several body parts. Primary symptoms observed in children with Tomato Flu are similar to those of other viral infections, which include fever, rashes and pain in joints. Rashes on skin can also lead to skin irritation.

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