Covid appropriate behaviour must to tackle H3N2 virus: Randeep Guleria (IANS Interview)

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Speaking to IANS, Guleria, who also led the national Covid task force, said that the H3N2 virus can lead to severe illness in the elderly, young children and people with comorbidities.

Therefore, it is necessary to follow Covid appropriate behaviour, such as using masks, washing hands, avoiding crowded places, getting vaccinated and staying healthy in terms of good diet and good physical activities.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

IANS: Once known to be just like the common cold, the disease has taken two lives in Karnataka and Haryana. As per reports, children under 5 are ending up in ICU. Your comments?

Guleria: H3N2 by and large causes a mild flu like condition. But in extremes of age — children and the elderly and those with comorbidities –, it can cause severe illness and they can be hospitalised. In some cases, they may also require ICU admissions because of severe pneumonia.

Because of this reason, we have been promoting Covid appropriate behaviour especially in the high-risk group and also raising vaccination for prevention in the high risk group and many people in the extremes of age.

IANS: Why is there a surge in influenza cases? Is the severity more this time because Covid has rendered our immune systems weaker?

Guleria: Influenza is not a new phenomenon, every year there are patients with the disease who get admitted because of severe infection in the hospital and ICU. But it may be a little more this year.

The virus undergoes what we call an antigenic drift regularly; and like the coronavirus it continues to mutate. So it is natural for the virus to mutate a little bit, which leads to some higher chance of infection. That is why there is a vaccine which is taken annually, because every year the virus undergoes a little bit of change or mutates to some extent.

I don’t think there is a link between the surge in H3N2 and Covid. Theoretically it’s possible that because of less influenza being there for the last two years, there was a decrease in what we would see in inherent natural immunity in the population.

Another reason is that Covid was the dominant virus as far as the respiratory tract was concerned for the last two years.

The fact that we were following Covid appropriate behaviour also protected us from influenza.

IANS: Is it only H3N2 or is it a combination of viruses that are causing the current wave of illness?

Guleria: If you look at the data, H3N2 is the dominant virus but there is also in children the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and other viruses also are being seen. So this is a time of the year when the weather is changing, the respiratory viral infection does increase and other viruses will also be there to cause the infection.

IANS: Covid is also rising with a single-day count reaching 402, raising the total number to 3,903. Your comments?

Guleria: Covid will rise to some extent because we are not following appropriate behaviour, so chances of infection spreading are high.

But I think what we need to keep in mind and the important thing is that if you look at hospitalisations, there is no real increase in severe cases of hospitalisation or death because of Covid. It will continue to be a mild illness. But it will not go away in terms of zero cases.

IANS: How can we tackle the rising viral infections?

Guleria: I think we need to encourage people to be careful in terms of appropriate behaviour, especially the high risk group. They should wear masks if they’re going out. Avoid going to crowded places, especially indoor places where if the ventilation is poor, the chance of getting the infection is high. And they could actually wash their hands and try to maintain physical distance.

This is only for some time because as we’ve noticed every year, once the summer sets in there will be a decline in the number of cases. But both influenza and coronavirus will continue to circulate and being careful is better. And for both of them we have vaccines so people should also get themselves vaccines.

(Rachel V. Thomas can be contacted at [email protected])

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