COVID-19: Impact of Indian Strain

Only when everything was starting to go back to normal, lockdowns were being lifted, schools and offices were being reopened, and the word corona was getting out of our lives, a new and stronger wave shook us harder. The B.1.1.7 (the UK strain) and the B.1.617 (Indian double mutant strain) are the mutants driving this second wave in India. This new double mutant variant has already overtaken the previous most deadly UK variant in large parts of India because the Indian double mutant strain is way more transmissible than the UK variant. Although it is more infectious and can quickly take over entire families, there is no proof to suggest that this new variant is more virulent. Majority patients of this variant are found to be asymptomatic i.e. not showing any symptoms, which doctor believes to be a good indication as the patient doesn’t suffer through symptoms. But, by the time an asymptomatic patient gets to know that he has been infected it is already too late and he has already transmitted this disease unintentionally to a healthy population. According to experts almost 85 percent of the country’s population is asymptomatic. This is the sole reason that has been pushing the healthcare facilities of our country to a bottleneck situation for the past 2 months.

Unlike the first wave, the second wave has seen a spike in the number of adolescents being infected by COVID-19. The mortality rate for adolescents is comparable to that of last year, but in the case of senior citizen age group there is a slightly higher mortality rate than last year’s. Another reason for a spike in adolescent infections can be the vaccine. Since most of the older citizens have got at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, they are now more immune to the virus compared to younger people.

The symptoms that we are seeing in the second wave of infection are slightly different than the first wave. Hearing impairment is one of the new symptoms that is being addressed in this second wave, it can start as early as within a week of the infection and can take some time to resolve. The severity ranges from mild to severe. Gastrointestinal tract (or the digestive system) is also being hit by this double mutant virus. The symptoms of COVID-19 infection in your GI tract can include diarrhea, stomach ache, loss of appetite and vomiting. Difficulty in breathing, or the shortness of breath, can be an early symptom to spot on in a COVID-19 patient. Different patients are experiencing different severity of breathlessness. According to experts this is one of the symptoms which appear at the very beginning of infection and results in relatively lower oxygen saturation levels which can further cause organ failure or damage to the lungs. Conjunctivitis or Pink eye is another symptom of this new coronavirus strain. Since the virus also transmits through surfaces, it can easily reach your mouth, nose, or eye with your infected hands. Once it successfully reaches your eye the virus can cause an infection resulting in swelling of the conjunctiva or the outer membrane of your eyeball. Redness, tearing, and itching in your eye are some outcomes of this infection. The immunological response of your body towards the novel coronavirus can also cause skin rashes especially on your hands.

Now you might be wondering if the mortality rate is the same and the symptoms are also almost similar then why is there such a chaos in the country. Why are the crematoriums melting down with the rush of dead bodies? Why are we hearing news of people dying while waiting in long queues outside the hospital? The second wave being highly infectious has overburdened our healthcare system. For every ten thousand people we have 8.5 beds and 8 physicians in the country, moreover more than half of the country’s population live in rural areas where the medical facilities are nowhere equivalent to big cities and the second wave very rapidly took the villages in its influence. The demand for medical oxygen abruptly increased from 41% during the first wave to 51% in the second wave. Also the sudden burst of COVID-19 infected patients in a short span of time has resulted in panic among people. Even during these tough times we were witnessing a blame game amongst the governments, political parties, and religious leaders. Election rallies were organized breaking the norms of lockdown, thousands of people participated in religious gatherings be it for Eid-Ul-Fitr or Kumbh Mela. All this happened when there were many daily wage workers forced to stay home worrying if their family could afford the next meal or not. Wasn’t the first wave a wakeup call for us? Did we learn nothing from it? How has the corona virus brought the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing country to its knees? These are some questions we and our policy makers must seek to answer if we plan to overcome the second wave.

India`s highest spike recorded 4.14 lakh positive cases in a single day. This cause a shoot up in the demand for oxygen and drugs like Remdesivir caused these utilities to disappear from the market. The same drug which would cost just a below thousand INR is now being sold for tens of thousands in the black market. An oxygen cylinder which would cost you about Rs 2,000 is now being sold for Rs 30,000 by private suppliers. In addition, the pandemic has highlighted an already existing problem of ‘Self Medication’. Patients are not hesitating while suggesting medicines to other family members and are even forwarding their prescription to others. Consumption of steroidal drugs and usage of CT Scans has shown a tremendous peak in the past weeks. People are going for these options without understanding the side effects these drugs can cause and without consulting the doctor. The exposure to radiations from one CT Scan is equivalent to that of 300 X-Ray scans. These radiations disturb our normal cell functions and mutate them to become cancerous cells. Also steroidal drugs which people are taking without a doctor`s prescription, is causing rise in a fungal infection called Black fungus disease. The unnecessary use of steroids causes a rise in sugar levels and suppresses the immunity of COVID-19 patients making them vulnerable to this infection. It is not a new fungal infection, the fungus has always been present around us but our immune system is strong enough to fight it. Now with weak immunity on COVID-19 patients, this infection is causing blindness, serious illness or even death in certain cases. A large number of black fungus patients who have recovered from the COVID-19 infection have been found in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Several of them are suffering from blindness.

The situation is not all bad, there are rays of hope around us as we saw many people, businesses, communities and countries coming forward to help India in every way possible be it through the supply of medical oxygen, ventilators, vaccines, or funds. The frontline workers have been providing selfless services to the community since the last year. Public personalities are using their public reach to help families find ICU beds or medicines. In these times, we saw religious groups putting humanity above all. Whether it`s a Gurudwara converted to oxygen bank, or temples providing door to door delivery of food for COVID-19 patients or Muslim frontline workers helping to cremate a patient`s body according to his rituals, people have set examples and reminded everyone that even in the darkest times there is positivity around us. All these acts of selflessness provide us hope during these dark times.

Learning from our past mistakes we should not overlook this deadly virus this time, try to maintain distance, use masks, use hand sanitizers and practice all the preventive measures issued by health organizations and government. Try to abstain yourself from myths. No, it is not at all true that if you have been infected by the virus previously then now your body is immune to the virus. These fake news not only cloud the truth but in some extreme cases can also cost someone’s life. It may have been late but there’s still a long way to go. We did win against the first wave, and we surely will win against this second wave. These are the times when heroes are born. Everyone cares for themselves, but not everyone cares for others. Try to be the latter, and help those who can’t help themselves.

-Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)

Picture: Representational (Credits – DesignIt/Zoonar/Picture Alliance)

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