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Covid keeps coming back, but is it something to worry about? – Dr. Randeep Guleria

New Delhi, Dec 31 2023-

Covid is now a viral infection and is caused by a virus which has now become endemic. Like influenza, the Covid-19 virus will continue to survive and there will be small spikes in the number of cases whenever there is a mutation in the virus which gives it a property of being more transmissible. Therefore, the virus will continue to be present in humans and we will have to continue to live with Covid.

As Indians, we have developed herd immunity to the original Covid-19 virus. However, when the virus mutates, and there are changes in the spike protein, an increase in cases of mild infection are seen.

It is usually not very severe because most of us have gotten the vaccination or have previously been infected by the virus. Therefore, we are protected. However, because the virus keeps changing to some extent there will be new cases.

JN.1 is a Covid virus (sub lineage omicron) causing a flu-like syndrome, including symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, runny nose, and these symptoms indicate a respiratory viral infection. The symptoms are common.

If they persist for more than two days or the fever is high-grade or if you are experiencing difficulty breathing or a significant amount of coughing, or you are in the high-risk group, meaning you have comorbid conditions, then you must get your RT-PCR test done.

Steps to take care

If you are going to a crowded place, especially if it is indoors, then wear a mask. If you are in the high-risk category, it is important that you wear a mask. Keep your hand sanitizer with you, and clean your hands regularly. Vaccines are there for Covid-19, which all of us have taken.

If you have not, you must take the booster dose also. It is important to note that other viruses can also cause similar symptoms during this time of the year. So, if you’re in the high-risk group or elderly, you must take your influenza vaccine also, and you can also take a pneumococcal vaccine, which will protect you against pneumococcal infections.

Do we need another vaccine?

We need to do sero surveys and sero related studies to determine whether we need a booster and what type of booster we need, as this is a new variant compared to the variant present within the vaccine. We have good protection as of now — on account of previous infections and vaccinations, however — with the new variant we are not sure how effective the previous vaccinations are.

Therefore, we need to collect data and analyse it — to help us understand how frequently we should get vaccinated, if we are protected based on the previous vaccinations we have gotten (against the latest variant), if a booster is needed etc. This is an ongoing exercise which needs to be done because variants will keep changing, emerging and mutating.

We do not need a variant specific vaccine. We need a vaccine which is effective against a broader range of variants which currently exist, or which may emerge in the future.

For example — H.N.1 is a sub lineage of Omicron.

So, a vaccine that is made against Omicron will be effective against this variant also.

With respect to Covid, 2024 will see ups and down but hopefully no major cases or waves. What we need to focus on in 2024 is good surveillance and data collection — this will be effective in understanding if severe infection is being caused and what causes it.

As of now, it is the sub-lineage of Omicron which causes mild infection, but the high risk and elderly need to take precautions.

(Dr. Randeep Guleria is Chairman – Institute of Internal Medicine, Respiratory & Sleep Medicine, Director – Medical Education, Medanta Gurugram)(Agency)

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