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Myth & reality of Corona tests

Anxieties regarding COVID-19 and lacking Coronavirus testing in India only amount to pointless fear-mongering that is more harmful than the contagion itself, write V Jwala Narasimha Rao & VJM Divakar

Myth & reality of Corona tests
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There is a lot of discussion going on the public domain in general and in a major section of media in particular about conducting Coronavirus tests in the country. All those arguing in favour of conducting more tests even with asymptomatic people are missing a reality that it is not possible to conduct Coronavirus tests on each and everyone living in this country. Imagine conducting such tests for the 130 crore-odd population in this country and how many years and decades it would take to conduct these tests. The time frame required would make this testing pointless.

As per the data available world over and according to the World Health Organisation and our own Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), studies point out that of the people who have the Coronavirus, 80 per cent are asymptomatic and they are getting cured by themselves. Of the rest 20 per cent, only 0.01 per cent of patients who show serious symptoms and have other acute health problems are dying. Among those who tested positive, 98 per cent recover by way of home quarantine and only two per cent are hospitalised for treatment. While complacency is dangerous, largely, people should not panic as long as they follow the prescribed precautions and preventive measures.

Unfortunately, a section of media and some vested interests are spreading fear amongst the people. Blind dread of the virus will not only not lead us to any solution but will also have an adverse impact on the lives and economy.

From time immemorial, generations of people have faced a plethora of viruses, diseases, natural calamities, epidemics, pandemics etc. But they survived despite all this. In most of the cases, they developed an immunity to such infectious agents after being affected once. In today's parlance, it is called herd immunity. A majority of people having proper immune system are able to withstand the Coronavirus and are leading their lives. The problem is for those who are unable to fight the virus with their weak immune system. For them, the Government is providing the medical facilities both at home and in the hospitals.

The Government's duty is to provide public health facilities and ensure that they are able to cope with the changing needs of such times. Moreover, it is also the responsibility of people to take care of their personal health. Along with rights, people also have responsibilities. Following personal hygiene and guidelines issued by the government from time to time is a must.

Whether conducting Coronavirus tests on those who have died has any purpose, is something medical experts should explain. It has been estimated that there are over 380 trillion viruses inhabiting us, a community collectively known as the human virome. The human virome is the total collection of viruses in and on the human body. Viruses in the human body may infect both human cells and other microbes such as bacteria. Some viruses cause disease, while others may be asymptomatic.

But these viruses are not the dangerous ones we commonly hear about. It is only when immunity power is weak that some of the viruses attack. Not many viruses can live in a dead body. Hence conducting a Coronavirus test during autopsies will not give us any purposeful information. This is what the experts have been saying. Moreover, as Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao mentioned in one of his review meetings on the Coronavirus containment measures, around 900 to 1,000 deaths occur across the State.

Every day someone will die in some remote part of the State. It is not possible to conduct tests on them. If the medical staff in hospitals are deputed for this duty, they will waste time that could have been used to treat live and ailing patients. There will be patients who come to the hospitals for other diseases and some for deliveries. It is not possible to conduct tests on the dead for the presence of the Coronavirus while neglecting these patients. World Health Organisation (WHO), ICMR or the Central Government never asked for the tests on the dead. The Telangana Government is planning to appeal in Supreme Court against the directive of High Court in this regard.

It is pertinent to understand that epidemics, pandemics, attack of viruses on human body occur without any notice. There is no way any government can take preventive measures to ward off such attacks. The only prevention one can take is on an individual basis.

Now at a time when no vaccine has yet been developed for COVID-19, all the Government should do is take the example of Telangana state to be prepared to treat patients regardless of their circumstances and numbers. In fact, the State medical and health officials experts have made it abundantly clear that the government hospitals in the State have the capacity, facilities and equipment to treat Coronavirus patients whatever their number may be. The State Government, however, may perhaps give a thought to allowing the private hospitals to conduct Coronavirus tests and treat the patients as they do for other diseases and illness.

It is only rumour mongers who are spreading the news that Gandhi Hospital is overflowing with Coronavirus patients. They spread the lie that doctors and other medical staff transmitted the virus, thereby, adversely impacting the confidence of the medical staff. The Coronavirus spreads to those offering treatment worldwide. This is but natural. This is not happening in Telangana State alone. According to the ICMR estimates, 10,000 medical staff have contracted the virus in the country. In the US 68,000 medical staff got the virus. Similarly, in Telangana State, so far, 153 medical staff members have been infected. But none of them are in serious condition.

Getting scared and indulging in panic mongering about COVID-19 is both meaningless and purposeless. If at all anyone should entertain fear, it should be about the economic recession we are in.

Views expressed are personal

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