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SARS CoV-2: What is COVID-19 by Dr Nishant Panda

28/03/2020 at 12:00 PM

This is intended for the public for understanding COVID-19

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is a major buzz word that has been ramming our eyes and ears since December of 2019. In the past couple of months, we witnessed the Government and its arms scrambling to control the unprecedented spread of the novel virus. Deserted streets of hustling cities, grounded aircrafts, suspended railway services which are supposed to be the lifelines of the economy, have disrupted its growth. It seems, the mighty humans are kneeling before the miniscule virus.

Various updates are being served to us on a variety of platter ranging from electronic media, print media and social media. Nonetheless misinformation and injudicious sharing of incorrect information isn’t helping us fight off the virus scare.

An example would be, the Prime minister requesting the general public for clapping and creating noise (sort of a hooting) at 5pm on a Sunday evening to show appreciation and gratitude to the people in essential services and boost their morale, was interpreted as being a supernatural phenomenon or a vintage religious doing. To put it in simpler words, “the numbers of interpretations were almost equal to the number of Indians”.

As a doctor I would like to bring forward, the important and relevant information and data regarding this pandemic scare called COVID-19. By now, everyone knows that this disease which is called by the name COVID-19. A virus named the SARS CoV-2 is held responsible, which has been named by the International committee on taxonomy of viruses (ICTV) on 11th February 2020. SARS abbreviated for ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome’ and CoV-2 meaning ‘coronavirus family’.

Its nature of similarity to the SARS outbreak in the SouthAsian countries in the year 2003 prompted the novel virus being named after SARS. These coronaviruses have been existing since forever. Thus, the obvious question arises why is there no treatment available for this disease? To arrive at the answer, we must understand the virus and the disease.

Viruses, as the microbiologists like to call it, a particle which lies somewhere between living and non-living. It means that a virus only shows signs of life when it enters a host cell (human body). What occurs thereafter is, the virus population skyrockets by utilizing the WBCs (immunity giving cells) and some other cells.

In the initial days of a viral illness, the body prepares itself by upgrading its immune system to ward off the Flu viruses. Hence, in viral illnesses the treating physician does not prescribe antibiotics as because most of them are ‘self-limiting’; which means eventually you can get cured by your ‘upgraded immune system alone’. The physician hence asks you to just take adequate rest with medications which alleviate your symptoms. But here is the twist to the story.

These viruses undergo a metamorphosis over a period via a process called as ‘antigenic drift’ which helps them evade the host (human) immune system. Think of it as a survival tool of the virus. Now, we can relate this to the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the SARS CoV-2 pandemic of 2019. These new changes in the virus render them difficult to treat. Vaccines would be different, and treatment would be a little different.

But, let me remind you treatment of a viral infection was already difficult, and we solely relied on a good and functional immunity of the patient for the recovery. This explains why in COVID-19, the older age group and people with compromised immune system are at highest risk of contracting the disease and worse, not recovering from it. The Government has asked the public to abide by the rule of social distancing and home quarantine, a.k.a self-isolation.

How this works is by limiting the contacts, we bar the spread of the virus which otherwise would have surged in geometric progression. Although the current guidelines have certain flaws, but it’s the best we got to tackle the spread until the vaccines are ready.

Dr Nishant Panda

*Any questions on the disease are welcome via email provided: drnishantpanda@outlook.in

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