Boosting immunity & A new virus | The Indian Express

2020-03-04 | 3 minutes

Context: New infections of COVID-19 have been recently reported in India.


  • On 31st December 2019, the WHO office was reported about pneumonia caused by an unknown agent in Wuhan, China.
  • On 30 January 2020, WHO declared the sudden occurrence of disease a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
  • On 11 February 2020, WHO named a new disease caused by coronavirus as COVID-19.
  • As per the latest WHO data, the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed globally is 90,870. COVID-19 has been reported to spread to nearly 70 countries.

COVID-19: WHO has named newly found disease caused by a coronavirus as COVID-19. Naming of diseases is the responsibility of the WHO.The unknown strain of coronavirus virus causing COVID-19 was called as 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV). But, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has officially named the virus causing COVID-19 as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). So, the official name of the virus causing COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2.

COVID-19 as a public health challenge: COVID-19 is seen as a challenge to public health because it is highly infectious. The fatality (death) rate due to COVID-19 is less than that of SARS virus. The death rate in the case of SARS was 9%. But it is less than 2% in the case of COVID-19. COVID-19 has caused death to nearly 3,000 people. This is more than the deaths caused by the SARS virus in 2002-2003.  Currently, there are no vaccines against COVID-19. Treatment of COVID-19 involves supporting breathing and vital organs of the patients until their immune system defends them against the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19: The symptoms of COVID-19 are seen in two weeks after exposure. They are the same as common cold and mostly disappear on their own. In persons having a weak immune system, infants or elderly, COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis.

Spread of COVID-19: The spread of COVID-19 is possible from other persons having the virus. It can spread through small droplets from a cough or exhale of other persons having the virus. Droplets from a cough or exhale can fall upon nearby objects or surfaces. If a person touches these objects or breathes in droplets, the person will catch COVID-19. Initially, COVID-19 infections were transmitted from animals.

Reasons for increased frequency of new viral diseases: In 2016, WHO has said that animals were the host of over 75% of new diseases affecting humans in the last decade. This is because humans, domestic animals and poultry are increasingly coming in close contact with animals, which often act as carriers of the disease. Some of these animals are rodents, primates and bats. Globalization, increasing global air travel, deforestation due to expansion of urban areas, agricultural land, and population pressure are factors that have brought humans, domestic animals and poultry in close contact with animals, which often act as carriers of the disease. From animal hosts, viruses spread to humans.

Ways to deal with COVID-19: As vaccines against COVID-19 are not available currently, the most effective solution to deal with COVID-19 is an awareness campaign. Public health authorities should launch awareness campaigns about the nature of disease and health risks and issue practical advisories on travel and sanitation. The government has ordered screening of passengers from Italy and Iran as recently reported patients had travelled to Italy and Dubai.


COVID-19 cases reported first from Kerala are now free from the disease. Kerala benefitted from its experience with the Nipah virus last year and the isolation of carriers of COVID-19. Public health infrastructure in Kerala is better than infrastructure in other states of India. Robust public health infrastructure helps in dealing with the new diseases like COVID -19 that are highly infectious and has potential for becoming pandemic.   

Mains question:

Q. Discussthe reasons for the increasing frequency of new diseases caused by viruses. Comment on COVID-19 as a challenge to public health. (150 words)

Q. Write a short note on COVID-19, it's spread and symptoms. Briefly discuss ways to deal with COVID-19 effectively. (200 words)



  • Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections.
  • The name coronavirus comes from the shape of the virus. In microscope, the virus appears like a blob covered by crown-like spikes.
  • They may cause less severe infections like common cold.
  • They may cause severe infections known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • They spread between animals and humans. The viruses that spread between animals and human called zoonotic.
  • Civet cats transmitted SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) into humans. SARS-CoV was first reported in 2003.
  • Dromedary camels (Arabian camels) transmitted Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) into humans.MERS-CoV was first recognized in 2012.

Epidemic and pandemic: Both of these terms refer to sudden rise in number of cases of a disease. While an epidemic is limited to a population or a region, pandemic spreads in many countries and continents at the same time. Despite its large spread, WHO has not declared COVID-19 as a pandemic till now.