Dr Shakti Aggarwal
Section Head–Biochemistry, DGM
Gurugram Reference Laboratory, SRL Ltd.

COVID-19–Recent perspectives and the way forward

COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic, which has so far affected over 13 million people and claimed almost 6 lakh lives across the globe, is definitely the greatest challenge that we have faced after World War-II. Pandemics can never be considered as a plain health crisis because they always bring a socio-economic breakdown with them, leaving deep and longstanding scars.

Coronavirus are not new to the mankind. It is a group of RNA viruses, which causes respiratory tract infections of varied intensity in human beings. While milder strains cause common cold, virulent strains can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The 2019-20 coronavirus outbreak, commonly known as COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020. Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. Less common symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, conjunctivitis, loss of taste or smell, a rash on skin, or discoloration of fingers or toes, which sometimes poses a diagnostic challenge and delayed intervention.

Unpredictable nature of the virus and its severe impact on world economy has led to an uncertainty and fear in everyone’s mind. Consider it better or worse but our society and the news have become a little politicized. Above all, people have been spending more time at home than ever, having constant access to the news via television, phones, and other devices. High fatality rate has forced scientific communities also to foster their Research and Development (R & D) activities. As a result, there is an enormous growth of scholarly literature on the subject. That is why it has become really hard to know which sources to truly trust but my top recommendation will be limiting your exposure to ongoing news or opinion-based blogs and social media around this issue. Instead, focus on sources, like Indian Council of Medical Research, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institutes of Health.

Apparently, there seems to be four ways, by which the COVID pandemic can go away.

  • Development of a vaccine;
  • Development of a killer drug;
  • The virus mutates into a weaker version and disappears on its own; and
  • Development of herd immunity.

Although many scientific agencies are on it but the first option appears unlikely until 2021. Second and third options look more like a wishful thinking, so we are practically left with the last option of getting a herd immunity. It takes about at least 60 percent of population (i.e., 84 crore people) of the country to get exposed to the virus before we can actually assume that herd immunity has been achieved. Now, the bigger question is–when will this happen? The first antibody sero-survey conducted by ICMR revealed that only 0.73 percent of population was exposed to coronavirus.

As per ICMR chief, Dr Bhargav, this was a population-based survey done in 83 districts, covering around 28,000 households with a sample size of about 26,400. Going by this figure, simple statistical calculation tells us that around 8.3 percent of the population (~11 crore) was exposed to novel coronavirus when this study was concluded around four weeks back. Although doubling can change over time, but if we go by the current doubling time of cases in India, which is around 20 days, it will take around three doubling times (~60 days) to reach the level at which herd immunity might be achieved. So, there may be no respite till August-end, which may extend further if this virus mutates or starts re-infecting again.

In such a scenario, it is more practical to consider this virus as a part of our life and adopt some changes. These include frequent hand-washing, physical distancing, sheltering in place, proper use of face masks, avoiding touching face frequently, and using a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Ultimately, the simple message of this article is that the pandemic is certainly not a permanent situation, and we will get through it together if we take these small preventive measures.

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