India lacks vaccine for HFMD


HFMD is common disease that’s not life-threatening

In India, there is no vaccine to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). The disease is not severe but highly contagious.

HFMD, also known as tomato flu, is a viral disease caused by coxsackievirus and enterovirus 71. Vaccines against viral infections like measles and Covid are available in India but there is no vaccine for HFMD.

Dr Vibha P., former consultant in the women and child development department, government of Karnataka, said HFMD is widely spread in crowds. “We have MMR, a vaccine for measles, but we do not have a vaccine to prevent HFMD because it’s a common disease which is not life-threatening. Making a vaccine is a difficult process. We have seen this during the making of Covid vaccines.”

Diagnosis for HFMD is ambiguous because these days it necessarily does not spread on all parts including hand, foot and mouth. “Sometimes it happens only on foot or just on hand or feet.” 

Asked whether a person can repeatedly get diagnosed with HFMD, Dr Vibha said it depends on a person’s immunity. HFMD is a zoonotic disease which is spread through cattle. If cattle are treated, it will not spread to humans.

However, Dr Thanuja H.A., a veterinarian, disagreed. She said foot and mouth disease in cattle and the hand, foot and mouth disease in children are different diseases; humans generally cannot catch this disease from animals. 

“Foot and mouth disease in cattle or cloven footed animals is caused by picornavirus. Cattle disease and HFMD in humans have similar symptoms like blisters and fever. But humans cannot catch it from animals like rabies, which can spread through saliva….”

There is a vaccine for cattle which is known as footvac vaccine (inactivated), but there is no vaccine for HFMD in humans.

An Indian Express report said: “While there are no vaccines, it (HFMD) is a self-limiting disease and requires symptomatic treatment only. The infection lasts for around 7-14 days. It has a fast-spreading rate in humid climates.”

As per the health and family welfare ministry, tomato flu was first identified in the Kollam district of Kerala on May 6, 2022.

Salini Sharath from Kerala narrated the episode when her two-year-old son last year was diagnosed with HFMD: “The red spots and blisters started from the thigh and then spread to his foot. By the afternoon, his whole mouth including the lips had blisters. He was not able to drink milk and couldn’t even eat anything which was really disheartening for all of us. The doctor prescribed us some medicines for fever and asked us to apply calamine lotion on his body. My son suffered pus bursts, fever and vomiting.”

The condition of other children in her locality was worse. A few of them were not able to wear clothes because blisters had spread all over their bodies.

Anuj Gupta, a virologist at Shilpa Biologicals Private Limited, Dharwad, said Indian companies work on the major diseases. But this virus can be easily prevented by using soap or any other disinfectant. “Though some vaccines are undergoing clinical trials, and some projects are still in the pipeline.”

As per the World Economic Forum, the China Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against EV71, an inactivated (killed) vaccine made by the Institute of Medical Biology at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015. The vaccine developed by the institute showed vaccine efficacy of 97.4 per cent.

Among the HFMD symptoms mentioned by the National Health Portal are poor appetite, red spots, headache and painful sores on the tongue.

Yukta Mudgal
Trainee Journalist at IIJNM.

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