Hyderabad: The Telangana government’s decision not to test secondary contacts of Covid-19 patients other than those individuals exhibiting clear symptoms of the disease is an option fraught with uncertainties, some senior doctors said.
In other words, the Telangana government does not know what it's doing, they feel. So little is known about the disease biology anyway.
Unless a fool-proof system is in place to protect vulnerable sections of the population, attempting to develop herd immunity may not achieve the desired results, they said.
Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday said very little, if anything, is known about how long a person infected with the coronavirus who then recovers from the Covid-19 disease, has immunity that he or she developed in the process of fighting off the disease.
Though the most visible symptoms being sought among people who would be ‘eligible’ for testing are related to breathing difficulties, cough, cold coupled with high fever, there is now scientific consensus from across the world that the coronavirus can and does infect several other organs of the body in addition to the lungs. These include the heart, kidneys, liver, the cerebellum, testes, and ovaries and intestines.
The short, medium, or long-term implications for individual health from a coronavirus infection is just not known. “Will exposure to the disease provide long-term immunity? That is the million-dollar question,” a senior infectious diseases specialist said.
“If we can protect our vulnerable population, then attempting to develop herd immunity makes sense. But our society is far from being able to do anything close to this,” the senior doctor said.
Any patient that recovers, especially after a severe infection, can expect impaired functions of some organs. The same could be the case with people exhibiting mild symptoms. “It will all depend on the extent of cell damage to an organ. Such damage needs to be identified, which means people even with mild symptoms will have to be tested to determine what is happening with them,” a former professor of cardiology said.
The real challenge, according to experts, is that currently there is little or no understanding of the Covid-19 disease biology. “Unless the government lays out its plan on management of the herd immunity exercise, it might be viewed as an admission that it has given up.
In the US, it has been found that 14 per cent of patients have developed issues with their cardiac muscles. Some three to five per cent of patients have developed problems related to testicles,” one expert said.
One doctor said that experience has shown that Indians do not worry much about their health unless they are diagnosed with a health problem. “Then there is the problem with auto-immune diseases, especially affecting kidneys, which is also a target organ in Covid-19. In any case, herd immunity works in a country like ours only when accompanied by vaccination. That is the reason why, though there are no polio cases for years, we still keep inoculating children against the disease,” the doctor said.