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Saturday Interview | ‘Antibodies hold the key for Covid treatment’

Health workers who get infected with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), remain asymptomatic and later get cured of it become antibody-positive for the infection, says Dr KK Aggarwal, president, Confederation of Medical Associations of Asia and Oceania.

Ajita Singh | New Delhi |

Health workers who get infected with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), remain asymptomatic and later get cured of it become antibody-positive for the infection, says Dr KK Aggarwal, president, Confederation of Medical Associations of Asia and Oceania.

These personnel could be posted in hospitals to work as frontline workers and “corona warriors”, who may not require personal protective equipment (PPE), he claims.

This is because their bodies would have developed immunity to the coronavirus contagion, says Dr Aggarwal ~ who is also Heart Care Foundation of India chief and a former Indian Medical Association (IMA) president ~ in an interview to AJITA SINGH.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q. Do doctors who get infected with Covid-19 and subsequently get cured become immune to it? Can it be a line of action for treating novel coronavirus patients?

A. Yes. Antibodies in response to Covid-19 hold the key to tackle the virus. This is called plasma therapy. Plasma treatment can successfully treat Covid-19 patients. Once a person gets exposed, the inflicted human body develops antibodies.

Blood samples from such a person can be used to extract antibodies in a controlled environment. But for this legal permission is required and involves a voluntary healthy subject on whom such an experiment can be performed.

Q. Is there a possibility of a new vaccine coming up soon? The United States of America has claimed that they have come up with one and have entered the trial phase.

A. A new vaccine against this novel coronavirus will take more than one year to come up, though laboratories across the world are working on it overtime. The claim by America is not totally false. Actually, when SARS and MERS had struck, American scientists had started developing a vaccine against those.

But both the viruses disappeared after a while and the clinical trials for the new vaccines were not carried out. As the novel coronavirus is known to belong to the same family of viruses that affect respiratory systems like SARS, it is being hoped that a similar vaccine may be the answer.

Q. Please shed some light on medicines being used to treat Covid-19 patients.

A. Every country is following its own strategy. There are five groups of drugs that are being tried. In India, drugs for treating TB, anti-HIV and antimalarial drugs are being used in different combinations.

Drugs to treat Helminth infections are also being tried. If Covid-19 patients are responding to hydroxychloroquine, research is needed if cinchona plant derivatives can be used too.

Q. Are all hypertensive people vulnerable?

A. Yes. All hypertensive people need to keep their BP in control. Hypertensive means high blood pressure. It is the root cause for coronary disease leading to heart attack, or arrhythmia, shortage of blood.

Heart is already stressed out. It is like a horse which is already tired. A flogged heart is a “thaka hua ghora”. So once infection enters such a body, the heart finds it tougher to work. Hypertrophy of heart muscle happens, triggering a heart attack.

Q. Why have elderly and already-sick people mainly become the victims of Covid-19?

A. The sick may have an immune response that is dangerous. This is referred to as cytokines storm. There is an over production of immune cells that flood into the lungs of the affected person causing pneumonia, inflammation and shortness of breath.

Q. Now medical practitioners are also getting infected with Covid-19. Is it not alarming?

A. Some 10 per cent of healthcare workers got infected in Italy. Same may be happening in India. Test all healthcare workers on day 1, 7, 14 and 21 for antibodies. If found antibody-positive, they can work without PPEs.

Q. Is it not a global intelligence failure that no preemptive action was taken to prevent cult practices from spreading the virus?

A. Cult practices prevail all over the world in Christianity, Islam and many other religions. There is a practice of sitting together and reciting or chanting loudly. We saw it in a church in South Korea where it proved to be a “super spreader” of the coronavirus.

Similar practice which started in Malaysia resulted in spreading the virus across South Asian countries including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and now India. Of course, they could have been prevented.

Q. Is alcohol consumption safe in this pandemic?

A. As per WHO, an increase of alcohol consumption can lead to “health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.” Alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes.

It is a myth that consuming highstrength alcohol can kill the virus, It can lead to fatal health consequences. While unhealthy drinking increases the risk for infection, consumption within the recommended limits ~ one per day for women, two per day for men ~ may be fine.

With moderate drinking, while we do see some changes that happen in our immune system, they are transient and they go away rather quickly.