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What I learnt from the COVID-19 Crisis

August 07, 2020 09:21 IST
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'The virus has been ahead of us till now, and we have been chasing the virus.'
'It is time we have to be a step ahead of the virus, and this is possible only by checking the oxygen level.'

IMAGE: A sample being collected for a COVID-19 test in Surat, August 6, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

In part 3 of the series 'What I Learnt from the COVID-19 Crisis' series, Shobha Warrier/ speaks to doctors and scientists and finds out how they have learned to stay ahead of the virus.

IMAGE: People queue at a mobile swab collection bus for the COVID-19 test at the IGMC stadium in Vijayawada, August 6, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Anoop Thekkuveettil, a senior scientist in the division of molecular medicine at the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvanathapuram said in May that the coronavirus has an advantage over us human beings.

He has learnt now that we can be ahead of the virus by using the Pulse Oxymeter.

  • COVID-19 is totally different from the normal influenza virus in the way it spreads.
    In the normal clinical practice, we don't test anybody to see whether he is infected or not; we test only those who develop symptoms.
    But in the case of COVID-19, there are more asymptomatic patients than patients with symptoms.
    This is something new about this virus.
  • Unlike the pneumonia patients, here the infected people breathe well, and are normal in every aspect but their oxygen level will be low.
    Many scientific papers now say that this is because the virus forms blood clots in the lungs thus reducing the oxygen level.
    But the patient will not be aware of this.
    By the time the patient shows symptoms, organ failures happen resulting in sudden death.
    That's why I feel more than testing for the virus, what is needed is testing the oxygen level.
    The success of Dharavi was because instead of testing for the virus, health workers checked the oxygen level of the people.
    That's why the mortality rate is very low there.
  • The virus has been ahead of us till now, and we have been chasing the virus.
    Once the community spread starts, tracing and testing become irrelevant.
    It is time we have to be a step ahead of the virus, and this is possible only by checking the oxygen level.
    Oxygen level measurement is easier because it is non-invasive.
    In fact, the Pulse Oxymeter is available on Amazon for Rs 1,000 which the patients themselves can use and monitor the oxygen level.
    This is the way to reduce mortality rate.
    I would even say the Pulse Oxymeter is going to be the saviour!

IMAGE: A health worker handles a vial containing a blood sample of a person for serological survey at a school in New Delhi, August 6, 2020. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Professor Gobardhan Das, a well-known immunologist and chairperson of the Centre of Molecular Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University, had told us in early April that there was a link between BCG vaccination and resistance to COVID-19.

  • In India, the death rate is lower than the rest of the world only because of the BCG vaccination we have had when we were children.
    The reason for higher basal level immunity is also because the BCG vaccine.
  • It is found that the biggest factor in covid infection is cytokine burst (Diseases like COVID-19 and influenza can be fatal due to an overreaction of the body's immune system called a cytokine storm.
    Cytokines are small proteins released by different cells in the body, including those of the immune system and trigger inflammation.
    When SARS -CoV-2 virus enters the lungs, it triggers an immune response, attracting immune cells to the region to attack the virus, resulting in localised inflammation.
    In some patients, excessive or uncontrolled levels of cytokines are released which then activate more immune cells, resulting in hyperinflammation.
    This can seriously harm or even kill the patient.)
  • The knowledge that the immunity developed against the coronavirus is short-lived, is something new.

IMAGE: Deserted Esplanade during the complete biweekly lockdown in Kolkata to curb COVID-19, August 5, 2020. Photograph: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photo

Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, consultant psychiatrist and founder of Sneha, an NGO that works for suicide prevention, discusses how the pandemic has affected mental health.

In March, when COVID-19 first surfaced in India, Dr Vijayakumar told, "Social isolation itself can create panic among people. So, stay connected."

Three months later, she says like she had feared, the number of people with mental issues has risen exponentially.

    • Mental health issues are the shadow epidemic of this pandemic.
      The number of people with mental health issues has increased tremendously.
      So also alcohol issues, domestic violence, children spending longer time on gaming and on the internet.
      By nature, human beings are social creatures; we need society, we need community and we need groups.
      But isolation, lockdown, physical distancing and lack of touch has affected people, especially those who live alone.
      That's why I call mental health issues the shadow epidemic of this pandemic.
    • The prolonged uncertainty has affected even people who have never sought mental health services, and thought they were quite strong mentally.
      Now they are facing a lot of anxieties and pressures, and are seeking help.
      The number of people developing anxiety, depression and fear has increased substantially.
      I would go on to say, it has doubled in the last three-and-a-half months.
    • And when people who have some mental health issues, develop covid infection, the stigma doubles for them.
      They have already been stigmatised because they have some mental health issues, and when they get infected with the virus, the stigma becomes too much for them to bear.


Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/


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