interview | G.V.S. Murthy Hyderabad

‘Households, close contacts are at highest risk’

IIPH-Hyderabad Director G.V.S. Murthy

IIPH-Hyderabad Director G.V.S. Murthy   | Photo Credit: m_subhash

        COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country yet a positive sign is that the number of persons getting infected through a positive patient is coming down, says Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH)-Hyderabad Director G.V.S. Murthy. Excerpts from an interview:

        Where are we with regard to COVID-19 virus spread?

        It continues to spread three months since it first entered the country with the number of cases increasing from 4.7 per million population on March 25 to 146 per million population on June 2; deaths increased from 0.08 per million to 4 per million so there is a steep increase in both cases and deaths, even if significantly lower than Western Europe and the US.

        Trajectory of transmission is not uniform because exposure to the virus has occurred at different time periods. Available data shows the number of people further infected when exposed to an infected COVID-19 patient is 1-1.3, which means one infected person is infecting an additional person. This has come down from as high as 3-plus persons in some States. This is a positive sign for the country as a whole. Household and close contacts are at highest risk as seen in clustering of cases in a few households/ localities rather than people outside the close contacts circle.

        Why aren't we seeing the peak or plateau as it has happened in other nations within eight weeks?

        The first wave of outbreaks occurred due to persons infected outside the country and returning from China — late January to early February. The second wave was due to exposure of locals to infected foreigners during the same period. The third wave occurred when infected persons knowingly or unknowingly travelled to different parts infecting their close contacts (March-April). The fourth wave occurred when stranded Indians in countries with high infection rates were repatriated (late March- mid April) and the fifth wave was when those infected locally migrated to their home States in large numbers (April-May).

        Delhi, Kerala, Gujarat, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh were exposed to the first or second wave; Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Delhi in third wave; Tamil Nadu and West Bengal were impacted in fourth wave while in the fifth wave, UP, Bihar and Odisha are more affected. Since incubation period is 2-10 days, there will be different trajectories in different States based on when and how many were exposed to the infected. However, other countries, too, had additional waves of infection even after the eight-week period.

        Are there any popular myths to be busted in our experience so far?

        Hot water shower preventing coronavirus is a myth. So is standing in the sun. High outdoor temperatures and high humidity affect the longevity of the coronavirus on outside surfaces as it cannot remain viable in such conditions. But transmission through surface contact is only attributable to less than 5% of infections. More than 80% of infections are transmitted inside the household or closed spaces when they are in close contact for more than 15-20 minutes.

        None of the so-called ‘immune system boosters’ are proven. A regular balanced diet is the best immune-booster, coupled with low stress and anxiety. Touching ATM pin pads for a fleeting minute or drawing cash does not transmit virus. Currency notes or coins are known to grow organisms resulting in diarrhoea or respiratory infections in laboratory conditions, but the amount of organisms is so small it cannot cause infections in the real world. More worrying are practices like wetting your fingers to count notes or turn pages of a book as you put fingers directly in mouth.

        Is wearing masks and personal hygiene sufficient to protect against the virus?

        Masks and personal hygiene are important to reduce the risk of transmission but are not standalone measures to guarantee 100% protection. In fact, masks are more effective in preventing community spread of infection rather than protect an individual. Handwashing shows marginal beneficial effects but is more effective when combined with use of masks. There is no data specifically on COVID-19 at present but since the route of transmission is similar, what works for other respiratory infections should work here too. Physical distancing, masks and personal hygiene would result in significant protective effects.

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        Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 9:52:39 AM |

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