Coronavirus COVID-19, a glass sculpture by Luke Jerram (Photo: Getty Images)
1) There is no difference between what the Government is calling local transmission and what the world calls community transmission, supposed to be Stage 3 of the disease.
Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s premier virologists: There is a difference. According to the Government (this is my interpretation), local transmission is when the primary case is someone with a travel history who brought coronavirus into the country and gave to their contacts, creating secondary cases. Community transmission is when you have infected people without a travel history and without contact with a primary case or a secondary case. We are seeing these cases now, but the Government is saying that community transmission is when there are extensive cases without a travel history. Whether extensive is 10 or 100 or 1,000, I do not know.
2) The virus will become less virulent once peak summer hits.
Kang: There is no evidence of that yet. It might happen if it follows the patterns of flu, but it seems to be circulating quite well at reasonably high temperatures.
3) The virus dies when exposed to sunlight.
Kang: All viruses/bacteria/parasites do not like sunlight, because of the UV rays and high temperatures.
4) Indians have better immunity.
Reeteka Sud, Research Coordinator, Nimhans, Bengaluru: No. There is nothing to suggest that Indians have better immunity, either thanks to genetics or the environment they live in. Air quality impacts people’s lungs and every other major organ system. This includes the immune function that is affected by air pollution in a big, bad way. In other words, bad air quality does not help the immune response—the reality is quite the opposite. There is a lot of evidence to show that. Some citations (Air pollution and health; Mechanistic impact of outdoor air pollution on asthma and allergic diseases; Air pollution’s impact on immune function in the brain—this meta-analysis summarises over a hundred articles to show particulate matter in polluted air increases susceptibility to infection. Press release from Berkeley, talking about the work of some of their scientists on how air pollution alters immune function, makes asthma worse; [Relatively] long-term effects of childhood exposure to air pollutants). It’s like this—a trained athlete can better run a marathon when they are well rested; as opposed to running a marathon immediately after running sprints all night long. The immune system is trained to identify invaders and attack them. Having been constantly exposed to pollutants is like a series of sprints for the immune system—it gets things under control but then it’s always ‘on’; so not at its best when a new pathogen like SARS-CoV-2 comes along that requires a sustained battle. The bottomline: It’s not an open question that air pollution hurts our immune function; but scientists are trying to understand how. This work is going on in many labs round the globe, including here at home. One of the ICMR labs from Bhopal also had a paper on it recently (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29202419).
5) Vegetarian diets are better to tackle Corona Virus.
Satyajit Rath, one of the country’s premier immunologists: Vegetarianism makes nobody ‘better’ equipped to do anything at all about any infectious disease.
Kang: Not at all, the epidemic that we are seeing now is driven by human-to-human transmission.
6) There are no drugs to cure the virus.
Shahid Jameel, one of the country’s leading virologists: There are existing drugs that show efficacy. Development of a new drug will take at least two years. Repurposing should be the focus. Chloroquine and various antivirals are available in India to be used in a clinical setting as experimental drugs for coronavirus.
7) India is testing enough.
Shahid Jameel: No, India is not testing enough. What you can’t measure, you can’t control. As for why, I don’t speculate on motive. I look at facts and evidence.
8) This outbreak is unusual and unprecedented.
Kang: There will be more outbreaks, perhaps not the same scale and spread, but they will happen again.