‘No Such Thing as Tomato Flu’: Expert Decodes Viral Fever in Kerala Kids

Hand, foot and mouth disease cases are on the rise. What do we know about the viral 'tomato fever'?

3 min read
Hindi Female

(This story has been republished from FIT's archives in the context of the rising cases of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, popularly known as 'tomato flu'.)

On 17 August, a new study published in the medical journal, Lancet Respiratory Medicine has warned of a "new virus known as tomato flu, or tomato fever, has emerged in India in the state of Kerala in children."

So far, 82 cases of 'tomato fever' have been reported in Kerala, in children below five years of age.

Public health officers have also detected cases in neighbouring districts, including Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Cases have also been detected in Karnataka and Odisha.

What do we know about 'tomato fever'? What are some symptoms to look out for? Does it only affect infants?

FIT breaks it down.


'Tomato Fever' Outbreak in Kerala

According to some local reports, it is a 'new viral fever'. But, the mysterious 'tomato fever' is not all that mysterious at all.

In a recent twitter threat, biologist Vinod Scaria said that calling it 'Tomato Flu' is 'a very wrong way to name a disease.'

Speaking to FIT, Dr Amar S. Fettle, Epidemiologist, and Kerala State Nodal Officer infectious diseases like COVID-19, H1N1,Ebola, MERS, and ZIKA explains," This is actually Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease."

"In medicine there is no such thing as 'tomato fever'. I don't know where this name came from, but it's called 'takkali pani' (in Malayalam), or tomato fever in the local papers."
Dr Amar S. Fettle, Epidemiologist, and Kerala State Nodal Officer Infectious Diseases

Don't let the name confuse you, says Dr Fettle, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is a common viral infection — not to be confused with Foot and Mouth which is an animal disease.

Is it a cause for concern?

Not any more than other viral fevers, says Dr Fettle.

What Do We Know about HFMD?

Dr Fettle goes on to explain that HFMD is fairly common viral illness, especially affecting kids below the age of 5, and usually isn't serious.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of HFMD includes,

  • Fever

  • Red rashes on the body

  • Sores and blisters around the mouth, and the soles of palms and feet

  • Other flu like symptoms like sore throat, sneezing, and cough

The sores and blisters are how HFMD is typically diagnosed.


HFMD, like other viral fevers, rarely develops into severe illness, causing cardiac complication, says Dr Fettle.

"Although its not usually a cause for concern, ulcers on the feet and hands can be very painful and uncomfortable to the child. They may cry more."
Dr Amar S. Fettle, Epidemiologist, and Kerala State Nodal Officer Infectious Diseases

Symptoms of HFMD are also more visible on the body than other viral fevers, which could be another reason it gets more attention than others.

How Is It Treated?

Although it commonly affects children below the age of 5, adults who are in close contact of patients can also get infected.

The virus, according to the US CDC primarily spreads through mucus and saliva when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms typically last for around 7 to 10 days, and resolves itself with symptomatic management. Make sure the child is adequately hydrated, says Dr Fettle.

If symptoms are severe, or persist beyond 10 days, it is recommended you see a doctor.

(Written with inputs from PTI.)

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Topics:  Kerala 

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