Covid-19: What you need to know today
Six months into the year, there’s a lot we have learnt about Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 (the coronavirus disease), and there’s a lot we have learnt about the disease itself.
We know that it is highly infective, we know how it spreads, and we know who is most at risk. By “we”, I mean most people who have bothered to learn more about the only thing the world has been bothered with for six months (caveat: top tennis players may or may not be part of the “we”).
Companies and researchers around the world are racing towards developing a vaccine in record time — there are many candidates in the works, and there’s a general consensus that one will be ready by next year, perhaps the shortest time in which a vaccine for a major disease has been developed.
There have been around 9.2 million cases of Covid-19 in the world until now; and almost half a million (477,000+) people have died from the viral disease. The pandemic is showing no signs of slowing. It is finding new hot spots in countries hitherto unaffected by it, and, even within countries already ravaged by it, in parts previously untouched.
No one knows how long it will last; no one knows when it will peak; and no one knows the final toll. To paraphrase a sentiment that has been expressed by enough scientists and administrators: there is no point in talking of a second wave because we are still in the midst of the first. Indeed, there’s been no ebb and flow of cases at the global level — just one continuous rise.
India ended June 23 with 455,928 cases and 14,482 deaths (a case fatality rate of 3.17%), but it has also seen 258,544 recoveries (which translates into a recovery rate of 57%). Going by the current case fatality rate, many of the active cases can be expected to recover.
And, in India, and around the world, that’s the biggest hope as we near the end of June. The virus has proved strangely resilient — not weakening as others before it have, resulting in infections tapering off, almost on their own — and summer has had no effect on it, but even as health care systems and professionals around the world have been overwhelmed by the rush of cases, they have figured out how to treat Covid-19.
Many of the prophylactics and cures are surprisingly low-tech. Quarantines, masks and hand washing are not hi-tech. Nor is the malaria medicine which India’s apex medical body thinks is a good prophylactic. Oxygen, which has emerged a vital part of the therapy for Covid has been used in the field of medicine since the late 18th century, with the first cylinders making their appearance in the middle of the 19th (and home oxygen concentrators, which many people are buying, in the 1970s).
Dexamethasone, the steroid which has shown remarkable results in seriously ill patients on ventilators and oxygen support, has been around since the middle of the 20th century, as have the first modern ventilators themselves, although the use of mechanical support for breathing dates much further back. And convalescent plasma therapy, considered by many to be a fail-safe treatment for the critically ill, was first used in the late 19th century.
Experimental and new-age medicines — remdesivir, which seems to work very well on moderately ill patients if given early in the course of the infection, is one — are also being used or, at the least, clinically tested. But it is remarkable that doctors have figured out a way to treat an entirely new virus using treatments and medicines that are old, tested, and, more importantly, with which they are comfortable.
Six months into the pandemic, there’s something to be thankful for, and there’s something to be hopeful about.