Hyderabad: Asymptomatic carriers of Covid-2019, the name given to the coronavirus strain that has claimed over 1,700 lives, mostly in China, are a cause for concern and India needs to be vigilant and further strengthen its screening and testing process as there is concern that there could be cases which are not yet detected, explained Dr Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was in Hyderabad to attend BioAsia 2020. Excerpts from a conversation with Dr Piot.
Why must India be vigilant for Covid-19?
Contact tracing of people and airport screening is raising a question in scientific circles about whether it is enough. Many cases are asymptomatic; some show mild symptoms and others present symptoms that are due to common cold and flu. There is a lot of uncertainty about Covid-19 and there is still no clarity on the mode of transmission. There could be cases that are not detected and that means that vigilance will have to be maintained for the whole of 2020.
What immediate steps can India take?
India must ensure that the influenza vaccine is administered to the elderly and it is a part of its government programme too. The influenza vaccine will help to control fatal pneumonia. Respiratory diseases and outbreak of virus lead to development of pneumonia. When a vaccine is administered the attack of the virus is less as there is human immunity that is prepared to deal with it.
Increase of pneumonia cases is a burden for both developing and developed countries. The story of China is an example for India; there are lots of lessons to be learnt from it. The quick spread of the disease, containment, complete lockdown and also severe impact on the economy is very scary. To avoid these, India must have a robust preparedness where vaccination, health education and also precautions are known to people.
How can these steps be taken?
It is important to understand that sample testing for the virus must be done in every state and there must be a robust diagnostic centre. One laboratory in Pune will not serve for a country like India. You need masks and there is a major shortage of these as they come from China only. Hence manufacturing within the country is also a very important aspect.
Sharing real time and real information is the key to tackling outbreaks. This requires real time data and materials. Governments also have to manage social media to a large extent as it spreads false rumours. These are the lessons from China for all. It is a huge exercise in medical management.
It is said that the rise in temperatures will kill the virus and it will be gone.
The theory is that viruses do not survive in high temperatures. We have witnessed outbreaks when temperatures dip. But viruses adapt to the local climate. There are also cycles, where it will peak in one season and not do so in the other. The cycles of the virus are clear but we do not know whether it completely goes away.
In the case of COVID 2019, we need to find therapy, medicines and also study the treatment modules of patients to understand what has worked and what has not. Mortality is only two per cent in severe cases.
The number of severe cases is very high. Being prepared for an outbreak is the need of the hour and for countries like China and India, it is important due to their populations.
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