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Praying for exit of Coronavirus

The moment Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his intentions to stay away from ‘Holi Milan’ programmes as ‘experts across the world have advised to reduce mass gatherings to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 novel Coronavirus, many in Mumbai too seems to be thinking on similar lines. Many residents and especially youth are in favour of avoiding bigger get-togethers for the Holi celebrations. In the wake of Coronavirus, the present health scare due to this dreaded disease, it is risky. Followed by Modi’s tweet even Amit Shah also announced about not playing with colors. This perhaps is not the time to have fun when the entire world is worried about Coronavirus. We need to be careful and responsible about others and ourselves too. Let’s stay safe and not play Holi in the usual big gatherings.

In Maharashtra, of the 167 travelers quarantined since January, upon landing at the Mumbai airport, only nine are currently admitted in isolation wards. Testing facilities have been put in place in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune. There is enough stock of masks. Hotel managements have also been instructed to check if foreign tourists coming to their hotels have undergone thermal screening. When there was an outbreak of swine flu, the dahi handi celebrations were cancelled.

While efforts are on to check and screen 88 people who came in contact with the Delhi man, the growing scare over Coronavirus which has claimed over 3,000 lives, mostly are from China. Families across the financial capital are cutting down on celebrations and cancelling pool parties.

There are many people seen wearing masks in India especially in trains and planes. But no one knows what this virus is all about. Coronavirus affects the respiratory tract in the mammals; it causes all types of the common cold. It causes cold with major symptoms e.g. throat swollen adenoids in humans primarily in the winter. Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia, either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia and they can also cause bronchitis either direct viral bronchitis or secondary bacterial bronchitis. The Coronavirus is fairly new that has taken the World by shock. It’s been two months since the outbreak started and it has shown that it isn’t as deadly as the SARS virus. Also, it takes about two weeks before the person infected shows any symptoms. It’s not noticed right away.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic in origin. Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases. This means that the first patients who were infected acquired these viruses directly from animals. This was possible because while in the animal host, the virus had acquired a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect and multiply inside humans. Snakes have been suggested as a host or intermediate host. In the case of this 2019 Wuhan variant (2019-nCoV) Coronavirus outbreak, reports state that most of the first group of patients hospitalised were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles. China not only has a culture of eating fresh meat has as many markets and wild animals fairs with various animals. This gives most likely a virus jumping to humans or other animals which can be intermediates. However, since no one has ever reported finding a Coronavirus infecting aquatic animals, it is plausible that the Coronavirus may have originated from other animals sold in that market. The study of the genetic code of 2019-nCoV reveals that the new virus is most closely related to two bat SARS-like Coronavirus samples from China initially suggesting that like SARS and MERS, the bat might also be the origin of 2019-nCoV. The authors further found that the viral RNA coding sequence of 2019-nCoV-spike protein, which forms the “crown” of the virus particle that recognises the receptor on a host cell indicates that the bat virus might have mutated before infecting people. But when the researchers performed a more detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of 2019-nCoV, it suggests that this Coronavirus might come from snakes.

The Wuhan Huanan wholesale seafood market where the Coronavirus outbreak is believed to have started is now closed, making it difficult for greater detailed sampling and study. Also, these reptile-to-bat and then human transfers are NOT definite or independently verified. Searching for the 2019-nCoV sequences in snakes would be the first thing to do. However, since the outbreak, the seafood market has been disinfected and shut down. This makes it challenging to trace the new virus’ source animal. These viruses don’t circulate among only humans but animals instead, they are adapted to animals but not human. When they infect a new species, they may be either too weak (i.e., unable to spread at all) or too aggressive (i.e., unable to spread efficiently). However, if the viral spread continues, viruses causing milder diseases are more favoured until it reaches equilibrium. For example, the Spanish flu was very lethal when initially introduced to human, but eventually became milder seasonal flu strains, contrary to people’s belief, the Spanish flu was never gone as some genetic segments are still circulating. However, we should remain cautious as something unexpected may happen during the adaptation. Because human adapted viruses will be very different from the initial one, anything could happen during such a long evolution path. For example, a mutation that enables the virus to replicate faster or evade the white blood cells better may increase both the infectivity and lethality which is advantageous in the short term. This could probably explain why the death toll of the Spanish flu spiked at the second wave. So even the general trend is becoming better, something nasty can still happen. So what we need is awareness and guidelines on precautions to be taken.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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