The age of portable viruses

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BusinessLine

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The “portability” of viruses is a public health concern that will plague the times we live in, as a plane-load of people is all it takes to bring in an illness. This is being seen with the “novel Coronavirus”, first reported in China’s Wuhan city and in people associated with a sea-food market. The virus has since been reported in other parts of China, Thailand and Japan, raising concerns over its human-to-human mode of transmission. And this has triggered travel advisories from governments, including by India’s Health Ministry.

The Coronavirus is from a large family of viruses that cause illnesses from the common cold to the more severe Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel Coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans, explains the World Health Organisation.

In the past, public health alerts have been issued as SARS, bird-flu and swine-flu spread across geographical boundaries and took on epidemic dimensions. In such situations, public health workers and governments scramble to screen people for symptoms at the port of entry into a country, besides stockpiling medicines to manage the illness. Similar situations were seen recently with Ebola and in a more localised manner, with Nipah in Kerala. Nipah was nipped early through quick identification of the virus, containment and medical management. Coronavirus-related infection could lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. And precautions against it involve regular hand washing, covering the mouth while sneezing and eating cooked meat and eggs.

As unknown and portable illnesses are here to stay, governments and international alliances are collaborating to be prepared. India would need an agile public health system, including surveillance, medical management and alert drug companies for medicine supplies. Anything less than a medical red alert can see the situation snowball to perilous levels.



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