Indian flag with Covid oxygen mask

View from India: Covid cases surge in the country, again

Image credit: Dreamstime

An Omicron sub-variant known as Arcturus, or XBB.1.16, is spreading in India. The World Health Organization is monitoring this variant, which has so far been detected in 29 countries.

In the last few weeks, Covid cases have hit the headlines again. As of Monday 17 April, India reported 9,111 new coronavirus infections. As per data from the Health Ministry, active cases has increased to 60,313. The medical fraternity is of the opinion that rising Covid cases in the country may be attributed to XBB.1.16, a sub-variant of the Omicron virus.

The coronavirus originally broke out in December 2019 before taking the world by storm in early 2020. Medically, the virus goes towards the endemic stage, which could be understood as a disease outbreak that is present but confined to a particular region. To that effect, it could be predictable and somewhat manageable. When the virus reaches the endemic stage it generates variants, one such being Omicron, which made news in 2021. Reportedly, it has been assigned over 1,000 sub-lineages since it was detected. Medically, the virus that caused Covid mutates and leads to new strains like XBB.1.16. As per the World Health Organization, the XB.1.16 variant is similar to that of the XBB.1.5. Yet it has an additional mutation, meaning it can spread quickly. Though XBB.1.16 is more transmissible in comparison with the previous variants, it may not be very severe. The virus is being monitored by health authorities as there are chances that it might even evade the immune systems. It could mean that the next four weeks are crucial to control its spread.

Some of the common symptoms of Arcturus, or the XBB.1.16 variant, are more or less the same as the previous strains; this may include fever, headache, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, abdominal issues and a cough.

To begin with, Covid may have never disappeared completely. It has probably been around in a rather passive way, but there has been a steep increase over the last few weeks. As suggested by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), perhaps the relaxation of Covid-19-appropriate behaviour could be the reason. This, coupled with low testing rates and the emergence of the new Covid variant XBB.1.16, may be other determining factors.  

Some precaution may help. Early cases of XBB.1.16 were detected this January. As IMA has indicated to the media, ventilation prevents the virus that causes Covid-19 from spreading. Further, recirculated air from split air-conditioning units, fans or any system that runs with a recirculation mode needs to be avoided. If unavoidable, windows need to be opened to enhance outdoor air exchange. The only exception for recirculation could be in a single occupancy room.

When we look at the virus spread, it seems to be more intense in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka than the rest of the country. These states also suggest a localised spread of infection. The spread of the virus is being checked at a micro stage;, it percolates to the district and sub-district level. Measures such as testing, tracking, treating and vaccination are being implemented. Influenza-like illnesses and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection cases are being monitored through fever clinics. Covid norms such as social distancing and wearing masks have reappeared.  

As the infection has witnessed a spike, the Serum Institute of India has assured the media that it has the capacity to produce six to seven million doses of the Covishield vaccine within three months. Already, the company has six million doses of the Covovax vaccine, which is being made available in private hospitals. Covovax can be administered to those who have already vaccinated with Covishield or Covaxin.  

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