Thanks to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the world has finally begun to see a silver lining to this global dilemma. However, the unexpected emergence and its spread of a new coronavirus variant has put everyone in a fix again.
Although first detected in September, this new strain was flying under the radar until November when it was responsible for over a quarter of cases in London. This newly-mutated virus has emerged in several countries, including India now. According to the Union Health Ministry’s latest findings, 90 people have been infected by this virus in India so far.
About the disease
COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease caused by the coronavirus. A virus is an infectious agent that reproduces only inside the cells of a living organism. It constantly evolves by changing the genome structure–the set of instructions that the virus requires to work. This new strain mutates the gene forming spike proteins.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) states that viruses constantly evolve by their very nature. A new coronavirus strain emerging is not shocking at all. Based on the early data, this new strain is potentially 70% more transmissible than the previous ones. Still, there is no indication pointing that it is more fatal than the previous ones.
However, a large number of people contracting the virus might stress the healthcare system again. And while all the three prominent vaccines develop an immune response for this virus, a problem might arise if it continues the same trajectory of mutation and undergoes vaccine escape, i.e. a state when the virus changes so much that it remains unaffected by the vaccine and continues to infect people.
All three vaccines will train the immune system to identify and attack the spike protein. Even though the virus mutates, the vaccines will prepare the body to attack different parts of the virus and so the chances of the vaccines not working are minuscule.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech claim that their vaccine appears to work against the highly transmissible new strain. Meanwhile, Moderna has made a similar claim and research is ongoing to understand if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine defends against the new strain as well.
Currently, the symptoms of the newly-mutated virus and that of the old one remain the same. COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. The majority of individuals who contract this virus will feel moderately ill and recover without getting hospitalised.
The most prominent symptoms include:
- Dry cough
Acute symptoms include:
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
- Loss of speech or movement
- Chest pain or pressure
The least likely symptoms to be seen are:
- Body aches
- Loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
Like the original coronavirus strain, the risk of infection increases amongst older people and those with comorbidities such as respiratory disease, diabetes, heart-related disease and cancer. This section of patients is likely to get seriously ill. There is also new evidence that suggests that COVID-19 can directly enter the brain causing brain fog and COVID dementia.
It can take anywhere between 2 to 14 days for anyone to show symptoms post-infection. Individuals with mild symptoms can treat themselves at home. If one starts seeing acute symptoms like difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath and chest pain, an immediate visit to the nearest doctor is a must.
While being in home isolation, you should:
- Stay home and rest. It should make you feel better and speed up the recovery.
- Wear a mask.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Your body loses more water when sick. Dehydration can aggravate the situation and cause other health problems.
- Try to isolate yourself and use a separate bathroom if you can.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid sharing utensils, bedding and towels.
While you should follow all the above-mentioned protocols when infected, prevention is always better than cure. To prevent infection and to slow the transmission of coronavirus, one should:
- Clean hands with sanitisers or soap frequently.
- While sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth.
- Maintain at least 6 feet distance from others.
- Stay home if feeling unwell.
- Travel only if needed, and stay away from public gatherings.