Firstpost Podcast: What you should believe and things you must junk; a public health adviser busts myths on coronavirus

Amid the coronavirus pandemic that surrounds us today, social media, our family and friends, everyone seems to have hacks and 'facts' to deal with the coronavirus and they are being distributed generously.

Aiswarya Rao March 23, 2020 08:37:34 IST
Firstpost Podcast: What you should believe and things you must junk; a public health adviser busts myths on coronavirus

Amid the coronavirus pandemic that surrounds us today, social media, our family and friends, everyone seems to have hacks and "facts" to deal with the coronavirus and they are being distributed generously.

How much can Whatsapp forwards and home remedies be trusted though? And is everything we believe we know about the COVID-19 pandemic true? Dr Aiswarya Rao, a paediatrician and Public Health Consultant, spoke with Danny -  a young writer who came to her with doubts and concerns over coronavirus that he picked up on the social media. You can listen to the full episode here. Here is the full transcript of the interview.



Danny: Hey Doc!
Aishwarya: Hey Danny!

D: I have certain queries that I want to clarify from you, and debunk some information that is spreading like a rumour. I represent the rumour and Doc represents the Aunty-rumour, sorry anti-rumour.
A: You had to slip that in...

D: Couldn’t help, couldn’t help that Doc! I was talking about the aunties spreading rumours on WhatsApp University. You gotta forgive me for that one Doc! OK! What do you think - I have a dog at home or anybody who has a dog at home, what if it spreads from that animal, and the common fact in the papers is that the Coronavirus infection first started from an animal – a bat -to human. Can it get back into an animal and spread?
A: As of now, it is a Zoonotic infection. It is theorised, that it started from animals in the wild. Coronavirus has always existed in bats. However, the current epidemic is caused by a novel strain of the Coronavirus, which mutated and jumped from the bats into the humans – a viral host jump – and is producing this highly infective epidemic, spreading from one human to another. Now you are asking if this Coronavirus can go back and infect an animal, specifically a home pet. As of now there is very little evidence for it. BUT last week they were able to isolate the Cornonavirus from a pet dog in Hong Kong. Generally, the respiratory viruses that infect humans do not infect dogs, because the viruses that infect dogs are completely different strains. Animals and human viruses do not cross-infect. But when they do cross infect, then we have a serious problem. But this Hong Kong case of the dog, they said was a weak positive result for the virus, and the Pomeranian is not showing any symptoms and is actually in quite good health. Most probably it was a contamination, maybe the dog was licking a contaminated surface, or the swab itself was contaminated. Now that is one possibility. But as such, there is no evidence for the virus going on to infect pets, and then for the pets to carry on spreading the infection further.

D: But that is what popular media tells us.
A: I mean in the wild, with deforestation and shrinking forests, the interaction between wild animals and human population is becoming larger. All viruses and bacteria are constantly multiplying. The products of reproduction are supposed to have exactly the same genetic composition as the parent organism. Sometimes there are mutations and mutations are extremely common. Mutations are small changes in the genetic material or code. Lots of mutations are not harmful, but some mutatations are harmful and that is when the animal virus leaves the animal population and enters the human species. These are called zoonotic infections. That’s what happened whenever there was a deadly epidemic like the Nipah, Ebola, Marburg or SARS. The vurs either jumped from a bat, pig or bird species into humans..

D: I have a question from what you just said, of all the viruses that keep recurring in human existence, is there a way that Nature thinks we are over populating the earth and we fuck it up. So this has to be a mechanism that keeps our population in control,. And it could be programmed as the virus that keeps spreading and keeps us from over populating the earth? You should you should
A: So are you saying that this is a corrective measure by Nature to to

D: I am not saying anything Doc. I don’t want to take sides and be bombarded on Twitter and all this social media world. Look there is also this theory floating about that this infection was brought to Wuhan by the US Army…
A: You know what! We are not spokespersons for Nature. As much as we respect nature, She has her own rhythm and flow and unpredictability. What we are dealing with right now are only facts and figures. We do not talk about variables that are not understood. We will stick to the facts and only facts that will help us in containing the spread of the virus from one person to another. We will leave the theorising and conspiracies to those people who believe them, and they are of no benefit to anyone. Lets stick to the irrefutable facts.

D: Ok Folks you heard her. Lets stick to the facts says the Doc. But we have our own monkeys in our minds telling us different things. Just want to know why it has not spread to some states in India – for example Madhya Pradesh, yet? And some states have only tested one case so far..
A: It is not a question of why it hasn’t spread. It is a question of surveillance. When you don’t get data out of a state it does not mean that the infection doesn’t exist. It only means that it wasn’t tested and and the numbers are not collected and collated in some place and notified. So if you say that a particular state at this point has only one virus positive case so far, or no case, it means that there are no cases. But the alternate explanation is that the infections were untested, and that they didn’t do enough tests.

D: Why is it so contagious. Is it because it is air-borne?
A: That is the nature of the novel mutated virus strain. It is spread through droplets. The virus is able to go and attach itself to the mucus membranes, the layer coating the nose and the respiratory tract and then multiply. And then when you cough and sneeze, you spread it to others, through droplets teeming with 1000s of viral particles.

D: Ewww.
A: So it goes from one infected person to another. They say that one infected person who hasn’t taken any precautions, and goes about their work – travelling and doing stuff, they can infect upto 4 people within the window of their period of infectivity- 10 day window. This means that a single infection will become 2, then 4 then 8 and those infected persons will spread similarly exponentially..

D: Now I agree with the Government policy of quarantine of anyone who comes down with the virus .. Why! I don’t want to believe, I don’t want to believe that we are living in the end times. Are we really Doc? I just want to know. Has there…Is there
A: If you wash your hands, and stay at home if you have symptoms, there is no reason why the world should come to an end. Its as simple as that.

D: OK. Lets say. If something or someone is dictating you to shut up and sit at home, then it is something serious. OK. Then Cholera has always…
A: Its simple, yet serious. Go on!

D: We have talked about dogs and the next cutest things is babies. Is it possible that babies can be infected? When we have a baby at home?
A: generally all the data and studies coming from China has shown that children do get infected, but that severity of symptoms is not high, at least not as severe s the elderly or the immunocompromised. But Children are highly infectious and they spread it much more. That is what we know. Because last week..

D: I know we all take a baby and..
A: Ya, children keep playing and keep touching things, and it is very difficult to keep children to comply and to make then stick to instructions. See, it is difficult to make you stick to instructions..

D: That certainly hurt my bababh..
A: But there was a new born baby, a neonate in the UK who was tested positive for the novel corona virus, who was treated, recovered and reunited with parents.
D: WOW That’s hope for humanity. Do people fight the virus with our own immunity?
A: Most of the infection is self-limited and asymptomatic. You shouldn’t see an infected person as an end in himself/herself. He is an agent that is spreading the virus around. So, public health is so different from clinical practice, because – it is not one patient that we see. We see an infected person in the context of the community that he can infect. So that is the difference.

D: Moving on. I believe that if we are sitting in a hotter climate and we cannot catch a cold. That is the irony of it. So this starts with a cold, cold cold climate. What do you have to say about that.
A: That is a belief that is unfounded in truth or in real practice. What I mean is that people do catch a cold in summer. It is not unknown to occur. And especially for the transmission of the Coronavirus, heat is not a deterrent. A hot climate does not prevent Corona virus from spreading. But scientist did observe that the rate of infectivity was somewhat reduced. That is the science so far.

D: That scares me Doc! Like this there are so many misconceptions. For example I was given a lemon juice or rather a hot lemon juice by someone in my office and said that if you drink this, it gonna be, it will build you immune system against the coronavirus. They didn’t put it so nicely. They just said that it will prevent it. That’s why they are giving it to us, And one of us said “ is it to wash our hands or to drink it?” ha ha because we dint know.hahaha Please explain I mean like, debunk that. I really want you to. If its true, I mean, then the price of lemons will really go up in the market.
A: If all this grandmother and in your case colleague tales were true, than we would have treated AIDS, Diabetes, Malaria, cancer long, long ago. At this point lime juice, is not known to be an effective preventive

D: Hot..
A: Hot lime juice, is not a special preventive strategy for protection against the Coronavirus , or Nilavembu kashayam for that matter. The only thing, again and again. I want to reiterate, that prevents someone from getting the Cronavirus infection is handwashing and keeping a safe disatance fom someone you know who is infected and having symptoms. Don’t touch any surfaces, don’t touch your face. If you touch, wash your hands anyway. This sis what is going to prevent and stop the infection NOT your lemon juice…your hot lemon juice.

D: Ya Doc! Kind of a protest of “Go Karuna Go! Hahahha…how do you put it?
A: You mean the prayer “Go Karuna Go”?

D: NO! I men there is a place called Gokarna and I want to go there and say “Go Karuna Go!” Its like quit India movement..and they think it’s a white fucking virus…I am sorry
A: Why are you laughing when you say that. You think it works?

D: I don’t think it works Doc. I don’t know. If anything will work, because we are at a point in time where media is making you believe that literally the Apocalypse is upon you. So my point is….
A: You know my answer to this is “ to each man his faith” . We also heard stories fo Christian prayer meetings that were supposed to halt the coronavirus, and maulvi prayers that are protective. We are not here to trash anyone’s personal beliefs. And I do think that personal faith and beliefs have a great role in helping someone cope with a disease or sickness. Anything is fair game. BUT at the same time use scientific knowledge and common sense and general precautions prescribed during an epidemic which is once again – wash hand, keep a safe distance from someone who has either travelled or showing symptoms.

D: Or keep a safe distance from somebody who doesn’t wash hands..
A: From somebody who doesn’t wash hands…hahaha…that’s a very useful tip and wash your hands and don’t touch your face, don’t touch surfaces and if you do, wash your hands immediately.

This is what is going to keep us through this long period of waiting out this pandemic until it dies its own natural death and goes away…
This is Dr Aiswarya Rao signing off, and I will see you with some more information on Coronavirus in the next podcast.

Updated Date:

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