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The world is still at impending risk of emerging infections due to unknown viruses lurking in nature: Dr Naga Suresh

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on March 06, 2020 Published on March 06, 2020

Dr Naga Suresh Veerapu

As the Coronavirus outbreak spreads across several continents with more deaths being reported, it is time to get an update on how long it will last and whether it will turn out to be a pandemic. In an interview with BusinessLine, Dr Naga Suresh Veerapu, Assistant Professor, Department of Life Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, shares his views about the impact coronavirus will have over the long term.

Excerpts:

Coronavirus has been spreading like wildfire, but fatalities are still at around 2 per cent. Does it mean that the threat is not as serious as it is being made out to be?

The World Health Organisation revised the death rate at 3.4 per cent globally, well above previous estimates of about 2 per cent. The revised death rate is far higher than the death rate of < 1 per cent of seasonal flu infections. This helps explain why, unlike seasonal flu viruses, which also cause respiratory illness, COVID-19-induced inflammation must be causing more severe health issues leading to more deaths. The current COVID-19 epidemiological landscape certainly has grave consequences. Concerned for obvious reasons, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have pledged multi-billion dollar financial aid packages to curb COVID-19 worldwide spread.

If one looks at SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and coronavirus, two of the biggest virus outbreaks in recent times, they seem to originate from East Asian countries, especially China. Are people there more susceptible to these viruses?

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity pathogen that can infect people from all geographic regions. It has already reached six continents and more than 80 countries. The surge of new cases in three countries includes South Korea, Iran and a non-Asian country Italy. Thirty-five of 51 European countries reported at least one to more than 200 cases and a few deaths since the first case on January 24 from France.

As the Coronavirus spreads across continents, will it at some point recede or take the form of a pandemic? How long will it take for the return to normalcy?

Though we yet don’t know how dangerous the virus can be, the fast-spreading COVID-19 at a surprising speed reaching dozens of countries, suggest it taking the form of a pandemic. But we have no way of knowing how COVID-19’s epidemiological landscape shapes up in the next few weeks, while there is no predicting how dangerous the virus could become. Maybe the virus will lower its lethality and continue to circulate, because it can’t afford to kill everyone in its path and self-extinct. Maybe the virus will come intermittently and adapt to a seasonal occurrence.

Is there any way Coronavirus can be stopped? Is there a medical cure for it. Or does one merely take precautions to avoid getting infected?

Given the obvious lack of therapeutic interventions, the fundamental steps in prevention and control constitute the first-line of defence against a new pathogen. The possibility of containing the virus spread appears highly difficult; the best way is to slow its spread through 14-day quarantines and travel restrictions. Respiratory hygiene and hand washing at individual level greatly minimize the risk of virus infection. Currently, there are no drugs to cure the virus. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms that include pain relievers, cold and cough medications and fluids intake. Recently, ICMR has recommended lopinavir-ritonavir combination therapy among symptomatic COVID-19 patients.

As someone who has carried out research in infectious diseases, what does the future hold whenever such diseases break out?

It is evident from the new coronavirus outbreak and its sister strains SARS Cov and MERS-CoV outbreaks, the world is still at impending risk of emerging infections due to unknown viruses lurking in nature. Basic and applied research is key to prevention, control and response strategies to emerging infectious diseases.

Published on March 06, 2020

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