Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


What Scientists Tell Us About the Risks and Myths about Covid-19

[avatar user=”R.K. Lakhi Kant” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]R.K. LAKH KANT[/avatar]

At the onset let us first of all find from what scientist have written about the nature of the virus named Novel Coronavirus. Also, what the Covid-19 disease is, and how it is caused by the Novel Coronavirus. This is so that we have a fairly good idea about how to deal with the disease that has become a global calamity affecting with alacrity a sizeable number of countries, most prominently the developed rich ones, which no one would have expected to be in the medical catastrophe are going through now. Even as the number of infected, and that of fatalities, rage through each day there is no known cure for the disease, the only way to effectively curb these numbers being to follow the precautionary measures which are being made known to the public repeatedly by the state, national and international health authorities and experts, and institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Indian Medical Association (IMA) apart from leading hospitals and research centres.

It is now known from researches by scientists that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus, the Novel Coronavirus, the one that is causing the present havoc, cause the disease Covid-19. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Coronavirus being common in animals, occasionally people get infected with these viruses which may then spread to other people. For example, SARS-CoV was associated with civet cats and MERS-CoV is transmitted by dromedary camels, whereas the possible animal sources of Covid-19 have not been confirmed. The virus that causes Covid-19 and the one that caused the outbreak of SARS, earlier in 2003, are related to each other genetically, but the diseases they cause are quite different. SARS was more deadly but much less infectious than Covid-19. There have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003.

There are some mandatory information everyone must have regarding how the Covid-19 spreads so that one can keep a safe distance from the disease. The Covid-19 spreads with infection from others who already have the disease. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with Covid-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Others then catch Covid-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch Covid-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with Covid-19 who coughs or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. But this does not mean that people, as is being done everywhere in Manipur, put boulders, tree trunks and branches, or ropes to barricade the approach ways to their localities or markets, as this paranoia will not save them from the virus. In fact the police have been giving awareness and many others too feel that these only cause inconvenience, as much to the residents themselves, as to others, as main arterial roads are common thoroughfare for all sorts of vehicles using them for reaching important works of office or essential business. The barricades also prove to be detrimental in case of other emergencies like hospital trips, law and order problems and other urgencies like fires, this being the windy part of the season.

Pets and newspapers are an indispensable part of home life and both have been waiting to get ticked ‘clean’ with people being afraid of getting close to both. Rumours were fast to spread and people had started releasing their dogs on the streets to be claimed by anyone in the cities, before they were advised against doing so by health experts and vets who said the rumour mongering was because of people who did not have enough knowledge on the matter. Animal lovers too came out strongly against such cruelty towards pets before the trend subsided. Regarding newspapers, the Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Dr. Randeep Guleria has stated that “viruses don’t survive for so long on paper to cause infection. Also newspapers aren’t being distributed by Covid-19 patients. So there is no such risk.” Another infectious diseases specialist with Jaslok and Kasturbha hospitals, Dr. Om Srivastava, has said that “it is an overzealous thought process. If newspapers can transmit viruses, the first thing to ask is where is the evidence.”

There is a lot of false information doing the rounds and the WHO has provided the facts about the Coronavirus. Some of the myth busters enumerated by it says that people of all ages can be infected by the Coronavirus. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus; cold weather and snow cannot kill the Coronavirus; the Coronavirus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates. “We are dealing with a new virus and therefore a lot of uncertainty remains. For instance, it is not known whether transmission in European Union will naturally decrease during the northern hemisphere summer, as is observed for seasonal influenza,” say experts; the Coronavirus cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites; taking a hot water bath does not prevent the Coronavirus; hand dryers are not effective in killing the Coronavirus; thermal scanners can detect if  people have a fever but cannot detect whether or not someone has the Coronavirus; spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill the virus that have already entered your body (sodium hypochlorite, which is  strictly prohibited to spray on human bodies and is meant only for metal surfaces, cardboards and closed walls, was used to spray migrant labourers returning to Bareilly, and  disinfectants on others in Kerala, which has caused huge resentment from all sections against the authorities); there is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection; garlic is healthy but there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the Coronavirus; and antibiotics do not work against viruses, only against bacteria.

There has been no report of transmission of Covid-19 via food and therefore there is no evidence that food items imported into India in accordance with the applicable animal and public health regulations pose a risk. Early on, many of the patients at the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. To protect yourself, such as when visiting live animal markets, avoid direct contact with animals and surfaces in contact with animals, say health guidelines asking for ensuring food safety practices at all times. People have been asked to handle raw meat, milk or animal organs with care to avoid contamination of uncooked foods and avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products. In another development, Chinese authorities banned the consumption of wild animals and markets selling them but hardly a week later the ‘wet markets’, as they are known, have gone back to operating selling bats, pangolins, dogs and rabbits for human consumption. As first reports came in of the Novel Coronavirus spreading through people who had apparently consumed bats meat, it was felt at that time, maybe still, that Manipur is all the more vulnerable to the Coronavirus because many here have similar food habits without any compelling reasons to do so, like starvation or poverty. A devout and very successful elderly businessman in Imphal’s Thangal Bazar questioned the moral rectitude of those who consumed such meat in Manipur. But at the same time, answers to questions over the safety of common animal products which are a daily staple food for the hills people in the state have remained elusive to the general public due to the authority’s own differing viewpoint. Food is a matter of starvation, life and death, in the Indian mainland, but not so in places like the hills of Manipur where the people are not used to such an idea of poverty concerning food. Their idea of starvation is that why should one suffer starvation by denying oneself by not taking meat products. Authorities in Imphal have to be liberal so that the hills people stay stocked with food provisions of their choice for proper health in their community.

To date, there is no vaccine and no specific anti-viral medicine to prevent or treat Covid-19. Most patients recover thanks to supportive care. So, as good old wisdom would say, it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis. Maintain a healthy lifestyle – the WHO has said – including proper diet, sleep, exercise, and social contacts with loved ones. Don’t use smoking, alcohol, or other drugs to deal with your emotions and limit worry and agitation by lessening time spent watching media coverage that you perceive is upsetting. Regarding how long the Covid-19 will last, experts say it is unfortunately not possible to predict how long the outbreak will last and how the epidemic will unfold. Those at greatest risk are those who have had prolonged, unprotected close contact with a patient with symptomatic, confirmed Covid-19 and those who live in or have recently been to areas with sustained transmission. If you have acute respiratory tract infection with sudden onset of at least one of the following: cough, fever, shortness of breath, with no other cause that fully explains your illness, go for a test, doctors have advised.

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