Actually Viral
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Actually Viral

Varun Khanna

The WHO finally dropped the “P” word on the world yesterday. Covid-19 is now a pandemic. It has breached all continents (Except Antarctica) and has crossed all borders. Between Friendly states and enemies, the virus spares no one. With its most likely origin from a fish market in Wuhan city in China, “SARS 2” has been creating news, fear, panic and of-course spreading itself across the globe.

The virus sent the scientific world into a frenzy. Labs and universities everywhere are focused on cracking this. There is definitely more science and understanding available now than December and every month we are learning more. Being a biotechnologist and having worked with viruses I have personally been following this outbreak since the very beginning. Trying to read publications, papers and blogs on what we know of it. I think it's important that everyone Is informed and it's important to know more than the do’s and don'ts. Blogs online do give information but none in detail and if they do they are often , quite difficult for the common person to understand. Here is a collection of FAQ’s which are most common asked and answered , but here they are pertaining more to india and with a little bit more information

What is Covid-19 Virus?
Covid 19 isn't the. Virus but is actually the name of the disease. nCovid 19 is the name given to “Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019”. The virus causing it is actually called SARS-CoV-2 – Severe acute Respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. A microscopic single strand RNA virus is a result of movement of the same from bats to another host animal (maybe Pangolin) and then to humans. The fish market where the virus originated is known to be a wildlife trade center, where several wild animals including bats and pangolins are kept in close contact with each other and of course humans walking around. In nature you wouldn’t find any of these species even miles away from each other.

Is it similar to the flu?
Most people shrug off the infection by just calling it “another flu”. The big difference here is the way this virus works and the mortality rate it comes with, in the vulnerable population. New research coming in from the UK suggests that the virus actually starts “shedding” quite early on in the infection period, when most of the people are going to be asymptomatic, contrary to flu where the spread is post symptoms. Throat swabs of COVID -19 patients show positive results in the first few days itself. This is also starkly different from its cousin , SARS , which majorly spread once the infection had reached the deep lung and most likely the patient was hospitalized already. Apart from transmission the severity of the infection is also very different and the treatment period. With a confirmed mortality of about 3%, SARS 2 has a multiple fold higher risk of mortality than the flu.

Does temperature have an impact?
There is no clear conclusion on this. While coronaviruses do tend to be a bit heat sensitive, cases in warm countries are perplexing scientists. After a point temperature tends to not have a direct effect on transmission but it’s the human to human close contact which decides the scale of the epidemic. Tropical countries like Singapore, Thailand and Philippines have seen daily rise in numbers of infections hence showing that just temperature isn’t enough


Does it spread through touch?
No and yes. This is again a tricky question. Covid-19 is spreading through droplets from the respiratory tract, eyes and nose. If someone infected has touched his or her mouth or sneezed into their hand and then shakes your hand, there is a chance you will be at risk of contracting the virus. Keeping personal hygiene, and keeping our hands to ourselves will actually be a saving grace at this time

Does it spread through animals?
No. It's unfortunate such rumours are milled out , which lead to an isolation and targeting of animals and birds. This virus is actually spreading from humans to animals (case in February of transmission from human to dog in Hong Kong) and they should be the ones running away from us.

How do I protect Myself?
The WHO has repeatedly been saying a few important points, which we MUST follow

1) Personal Hygiene – Solutions start closer to home. Maintaining cleaning protocols is the first line of defense for protecting against this virus. If you can kill the virus at the source, why not.
2) Immunity – A strong immunity is your body's personal first line of defence. Ensuring a healthy diet, a healthy sleep and higher content of natural vitamin C from citric fruits or from naturally sourced supplements, help enhance your bodies virus fighting capabilities are a way to help your body have a winning chance to fight against the bug.
3) Restricting All non essential travel – From the ages of ships, disease has always travelled as a passenger. The plague with rats, smallpox on the slave ships, Our endeavour to travel has always lead to us not only finding exotic experiences but also exotic conditions. Restricting all non essential travel not only helps you stay safe, but also restrict the spread of the problem.
4) Self Isolation – If you have a rough throat, it's better to just stay at home. Nothing is as important , and everything can wait. While the virus is going to be mild in nearly 70%-80% of the cases, the challenge is for those 20% people who might contract the virus and these are guys who are already immunocompromised due to maybe age or an underlying condition. And by staying at home you may reduce the risk of them being exposed to COVID-19.
5) Avoid Gatherings – Viruses love a good party, but for other reasons than you do. Being in Close proximity and in small confined spaces actually enhances the risk of spread significantly. There will be a lot of Saturday nights, after this passes

What does it mean when people say “it will become like the flu”?
When Influenza (Spanish Flu) first started affecting humans, millions were lost, because the world was a different place then. No one knew what it was and there was no cure. While we aren’t very far off with covid -19 at the moment, since very little is known about the virus, and there is no known cure yet, the world is a very different and informed place now. Organised quarantines around the world are ensuring that the virus’s movement is restricted and confined. India recently closed the borders to keep possible vectors out. Yet many of us will be exposed to this virus, and many of us will develop antibodies. Like Swine flu or any other flu, this will also subside eventually, with maybe a higher reach and higher mortality, but it will always be lingering around, And our bodies will have to adapt to take care of it the next time it comes around, just like the flu. As Darwin said, ‘Success is not just for the fittest but for those who adapt.’

Indians have strong immunity, we live with such bugs everyday , this won't affect us horribly?
Apart from being factually incorrect this thought process gives us a false hope which is dangerous for us. India is the world's largest population of diabetics and cardiovascular patients. Our personal hygiene standards are the poorest. We have the highest density of population per sq.Km and most of us suffer from nutritional deficiency. This actually puts us very high up in the vulnerable list. Our exposure to bugs on a regular basis does provide us with protection against ‘those bugs' but COVID 19 is new and there is no science or proof suggesting Indians are immune to it. False assurances to yourself and people around you can make people think that this won't affect them and will reduce compliance of the basic practices which will actually reduce the impact of this virus. Hence to all of us, We aren’t immune yet, we aren’t any different to the rest of the world either. We have the same biochemistry as others.

Should we panic?
NO.
Panic, hysteria and fear are all words which help breed these bugs. When we panic, we become illogical and end up doing all those basic things we aren’t supposed to do. While we shouldn’t panic, we shouldn’t be complacent either. As the WHO constantly says, precautions will help us prevent outbreaks. Countries like India who haven’t seen the full force yet, still have a chance, to win against COVID-19. But this requires us , all of us, the government, the people, every individual to be cognizant about the fact that the threat is real and the solution also lies within us. Laying low, staying away from crowds, not being over confident about ‘Indian immunity’ and following precautions is the way forward, and as every other condition this too will pass, but only we can make the impact softer.
Actually Viral


What is India doing?
The Ministry of External Affairs has banned all international travel to India. While this will put a huge pressure on the tourism industry it was a bold and much required move. Restricting travel is the first and the most important element of ensuring lesser new cases coming into the country. While this may be good to reduce new cases flying in, a lot needs to be done for the bugs which are already within. We are sure there is a lot of work happening at the background, but learnings from countries like Korea and Japan show one thing is clear, Heavy testing. Every possible at risk individual must be tested (Korea had performed more than 200,000 Tests till march 6th, highest after Asia) and if tested positive must be quarantined. Korea and Italy have similar numbers in cases, but mortality is significantly lower in Korea. This can be attributed to the countries focus on early detection and early quarantine. While this is a logistical nightmare for a country like india, we will have to adapt to find our own way of mass screenings, which aren’t only looking out for people with fevers, but are able to see the unseen and we are able to catch the virus at the bud


Will there be a vaccine soon?
While no one will dispute the fact there will be a vaccine to this, the question is when. Contrary to belief , the development of a vaccine is a very very cumbersome process. Researchers try multiple permutations and combinations of possible solutions which will ensure that the virus gets controlled without negatively affecting the host. This takes time, a series of clinicals and of course the vaccine / Antidote needs to be successful at every step with the same safety. No one can put a time on it, it could be 6 months or 18 months, but the vaccine isn’t going to be the hail mary, preventing the spread is the ultimate weapon. The journey has just begun with COVID -19. We can say one thing, it is definitely here to stay, but like other viruses, this will also hopefully become something we are able to overcome. But this is only possible by prevention of the spread now and ensuring we are all informed and educated and not falling prey to rumours. Times like these, being informed, following instructions and keeping strong are the only way forward.

Varun Khanna Is a biotechnologist from University of Leeds and is Co-founder of Fast&Up, an intelligent nutrition brand. 

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Please note that there will be a delay in the dispatch due to the current situation of Covid-19
Please note that there will be a delay in the dispatch due to the current situation of Covid-19