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Covid-19

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The recent surge of the Omicron virus affecting the bulk of the population in most countries absolved the fear of the pandemic to a considerable extent. The Omicron B.1.1.529 variant or the South African variant increased infection rate and re-infection even on vaccinated and pre-infected people, ranging from a severe to mild viral attack. B.A.2 sub-variant Omicron may have worsened and peaked infections but did not cause severity and the same impact as the Delta virus. 

What changed the perspective of the Pandemic?

However, the good thing about this variant is that it lasted for a week, allowing for faster recovery time. This behaviour of the omicron waves provoked people from dropping masks. Companies, too, felt that the Corona wave was finally over and offices opened to re-welcome employees, social events came back in full force, and for all appearances, we are bidding goodbye to the corona virus even if it may not have left us.

In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Rochelle Wolensky, in a statement, revealed amid the Omicron wave that people should be given a break from wearing masks when the metrics are better and when the situation worsens, they can be prompted to wearing it again. In Europe, too many countries have done away with the mask and social distancing. However, the World Health Organisation warns not to drop guard, and caution is the best way to downward the curve. The death rate is still increasing worldwide, though reported positive cases have decreased.

After every three months of the international public health emergency, the experts that advised the World Health Organisation (WHO) assess the pandemic to determine whether it merits the same level of caution. In 2022 January, it was unanimously agreed that it does, and the verdict was met with acceptance from the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Although Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have let off an official declaration for the end of the pandemic and have lifted most of the restrictions, countries like New Zealand are still cautious.

How can we check the spread of future COVID 19 viruses?

With the Omicron wave, we have realised that it is imperative to take steps against this rampant pandemic attack, and the only way we can achieve this is by continuing to follow responsible preventive behaviour. The vaccines may have failed in preventing infection, but we must not forget that those vaccinated were protected from the severity of the variant. Death was much less than the Delta variant, and most cases could be controlled with home isolation treatment. Those who had been administered booster doses were well protected from the Omicron virus. Countries where at least one dose of the CORONA vaccine was taken, saw a significantly lower hospitalisation. In countries where the vaccine coverage was intense, cases of hospitalisation and death were recorded in more significant numbers.

Behavioral developments in people 

The pandemic has also revealed an interesting behavioural response from people from different countries and governments. They are under the impression that the health risks associated with COVID 19 will not affect them; it could be related to their vaccination status or some other reason. After the Omicron wave, some governments have concluded that lockdowns are not beneficial to the larger society, and the economic setback it causes affects a larger population, with its outreach being equal to the impact of the pandemic. Governments, though, are strictly adhering to the vaccine policy.

Future variants

Moving further, there is some amount of scepticism concerning future variants. Expert epidemiologists suggest that a more dangerous variant than Omicron is bound to appear in a few months, but the present behaviour of the Omicron in its relatively dormant stage delivers some amount of optimism. While uncertainty still looms, booster intake has been significantly low in most countries compared to the first and the second dose. Another question that typically worries us in India is that the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna has proved to be stronger than the vaccine that largely dominates in the country. The efficacy duration of the Covishield and Covaxin vaccine against the Omicron variant is still untested.

The new variant may start a new chapter in the Covid 19 pandemic; however, the only hope for society to face this impending challenge is thoughtful preventive measures. Staying safe through vaccinations, wearing masks, and maintaining adequate social distance is still required, especially in populated places and enclosed areas. Each individual must monitor the virus behavior following news from the health authorities, and if the virus recurs, testing and isolation is the best way to break the chain. An endemic, however, is the most desirable option at this date.

Ever since the first coronavirus case was reported on 31st December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the world has witnessed one of the biggest pandemics in the last two years. The Coronavirus Disease, also known as COVID – 19, is an infectious disease that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to medical experts, COVID – 19 triggers respiratory tract infection. This can affect your upper respiratory tracts, which includes the sinuses, nose and throat, as well as the lower respiratory tract, which includes the windpipe and lungs. The severity of the symptoms and infection can range from mild to severe depending on several factors.

The COVID – 19 infection mostly spreads through person-to-person contact. It usually spreads from the infected person’s nose or mouth in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze or even speak, and is inhaled by another person. The virus can also spread in poorly ventilated public settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. People can also get affected by coming in contact with high touch surfaces such as tables, desks, door knobs, faucets and more, as these surfaces are likely to be used by infected people.

Some of the most common symptoms of COVID – 19 include fever, coughing, breathlessness, fatigue, and loss of smell or taste. The other less common symptoms are chills, body ache, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, rash/discoloration on skin, irritation or redness in the eyes, nausea, and diarrhea. People with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory conditions such as asthma are likely to display severe symptoms as compared to the others, since their immune system is more compromised.

Like any other virus, the coronavirus too has the tendency to mutate or change. There are now several variants of the coronavirus, and some of them are proving to be more contagious and deadlier as compared to the original virus. Scientists and medical experts from across the globe are studying these different strains and variants to understand how fast each variant spreads and how severe can their symptoms can be. Throughout the COVID – 19 pandemic, scientists have kept track of several coronavirus variants such as:

  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Gamma
  • Delta
  • Lambda
  • Mu
  • Omicron

Out of these variants, the Delta variant seems to be the deadliest variant, leading to more hospitalization and fatalities, as compared to the other variants. The latest coronavirus variant is Omicron, and scientists are now thoroughly studying its patterns, transmissibility and severity.

Understanding the Omicron variant

The first case of the Omicron variant was reported on 24th November 2021 from South Africa to the World Health Organization (WHO). Several medical health experts are studying this relatively new variant to understand the many aspects of Omicron.

In India, the first case of Omicron was detected on 2nd December 2021 in the state of Karnataka, and is rapidly spreading across the country. Though there is no clarity on whether this variant is more transmissible or severe compared to the others variants, researchers and experts have observed patterns of spread of the Omicron infection across the globe to provide the cure and preventive measures.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), preliminary evidence suggests that there might be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron in comparison to the other variants. This means that people who have previously been diagnosed with COVID – 19 could become more easily infected with Omicron, and are more susceptible to the variant.

According to CDC, the Omicron variant is more likely to spread faster than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. CDC also expects that anyone can get infected with Omicron, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.

Symptoms of Omicron

Though the symptoms of the coronavirus disease have more or less remained the same, regardless of the variant, there are some symptoms that are more prominent than the others. During the Omicron, many people are reporting symptoms that are more in line with common cold. The top 5 symptoms of the Omicron variant include:

  • Runny Nose
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Sore Throat

Some of the other Omicron symptoms that were reported are itchiness in the throat, dry cough and lower back pain. The classic COVID symptoms of fever and loss of taste/smell are slightly less frequent with Delta and Omicron in comparison to the original coronavirus and the Alpha variant.

Preventing the spread of Omicron

Though reports suggest that the Omicron infection is milder compared to the other variants, it is highly important to take the necessary precautions to keep the disease at bay. According to reports, the COVID – 19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, with lower possibility of hospitalization. Medical experts are now studying how effective the vaccines are against the Omicron variant.

If you are not fully vaccinated, it is important to complete all the doses of your vaccination. You should also ensure that you are fully masked, maintain social distancing, sanitize frequently and stay in properly ventilated spaces. Though there have been very few fatalities pertaining to Omicron, it should not be dismissed as mild. Get yourself tested immediately in case of any symptoms and diligently follow the COVID – 19 precautions, because prevention is always better than cure!

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html

https://time.com/6138293/omicron-symptoms-covid-19/

https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/detail/18-12-2021-take-all-measures-to-prevent-further-spread-of-omicron-who

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

https://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus

Antibodies are specialized Y-shaped proteins that help recognize the body’s foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites and help neutralize them. They are part of the adaptive immune system in the human body.

When a human body recovers from an infection with a virus, the immune system retains a memory of the same, so that the immune cells and proteins in the body can recognize and eliminate the pathogen, if it appears again. This is how the body receives protection against diseases and reduces the severity of the illness. Once made, the antibodies, whether from an infection or vaccination, may protect people from getting severely ill for some time afterward.

The same concept applies to the Coronavirus. Supposing you caught the virus, your body would produce antibodies that can recognize and eliminate foreign substances in your body and provide immunity. Immunity consists of 3 elements which are:

Helper T Cells – Ones that helps recognize pathogens

Killer T Cells – The ones that eliminate pathogens

B Cells – The ones that produce new antibodies when you need them.

On getting the COVID-19 vaccination, the antibodies in it provide T cells and B cells to your body which know how to fight against the virus.

So, what is the Neutralising Antibody (NAB) Test?

After getting the vaccine or an infection, it is important to know how if an individual has developed an immune response post-SARS-CoV2 or post-vaccination. Neutralizing Antibody Rapid Test is a qualitative In-Vitro Diagnostic immunochromatography assay. This test is designed for the use to detect the circulating SARS-CoV-2 neutralizes antibodies in whole blood.

This test is intended for use in any laboratory & non-laboratory setting to check immune response in subjects post COVID-19 vaccination & or infection with the SARS-CoV-2 initiated by the healthcare professional and individuals with the self-collected specimen.

Persons vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and persons infected by SARS-CoV-2 infection can take this test.

How to conduct a Post-vaccination neutralizing antibody test using the Anti-body test kit

First things first, let’s look at what comes with the Anti-body test kit.  The box includes 1 test device, 1 Assay buffer, 1 Capillary tube, 1 Alcohol swab, 1 Lancet, 1 Disposal Bag, and 1 User guide

Take the following steps for preparation:

Step 1 – Wash your hands, and make sure they are completely dry before starting the test

Step 2 – Remove the test components from the box and place them on a flat surface

Step 3 – Peel the aluminum foil from the pre-filled buffer tube and secure the cap on the buffer tube

Step 4 – Push the buffer tube on the perforated circle on the box

How to collect a sample

  1. Choose your ring finger or the middle finger, clean the tip of the finger with the alcohol swab and let it dry for 5 to 7 seconds. 
  2. Twist and pull the tip of the Lancet.
  3. Position the Lancet over your fingertip and push back against the skin until you heard a click
  4. Wait for a good size of a drop of blood to form. If it does not, squeeze the sides of the finger to help it form
  5. Squeeze the top of the capillary tube and bring the capillary tip in contact with the blood drop. Release the top of the capillary tube allowing the blood to flow into the tube

How to conduct the Test

Squeeze the top of the capillary tube to transfer the blood into the sample well of the test device

  • Add 3-4 drops of the assay buffer on the sample well of the test device
  • Wait for 15-20 minutes to read and  interpret the result.

How to interpret the result

Note: Result post 20 minutes should not be considered valid.

  • Only if the control band C is developed, the test result indicates negative
  • If the control (C) band and test (T) band is developed, it indicates the presence of COVID-19 neutralizing antibody in the sample. This means the result is positive.
  • If no control band (C) is developed then the assay is invalid regardless of the color development on the test (T) band
  • If none of the bands have developed, the assay is invalid. Try again with a new device.

How to dispose of the test-kit

  • Use a sealed bag to dispose of the assay buffer, alcohol swab, capillary tube, and test device.
  • Disinfect all the surfaces that the test Device may have touched and wash your hands after disposal

Do’s and Dont’s

Do not refrigerate the kit, or do not use the kit if the expiry date has passed. Do not interpret the result after 30 minutes. The result should be interpreted only after 20 minutes. The kit should be stored between 2 – 30 degrees Celsius. Follow the guidelines for disposal. Stand up so your hand is below your heart, this helps your blood flow better.

Testing positive on an antibody test does not mean that it should be a factor that determines whether or not to return to work or school. One should take steps to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. Before taking an antibody test if you have had COVID-19 symptoms at some point, it is wise to consult with your doctor thoroughly so they can guide you accurately as needed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world and brought about drastic changes in our lives. As each wave is hitting stronger than the other, there is an increased demand for COVID tests and vaccines. With cases increasing day by day, there is a lot of pressure on labs and diagnostic centers to give out the test reports immediately, so that a person can start with the treatment and medications if tested positive. Also, to get tested, people would have to be physically present in the testing center, waiting in queues, exposing themselves to viruses, and increasing the risk for the people around them too. According to medical experts, the results must be given quickly, normally within 24 hours, to prevent the transmission of the virus. And delayed test results lead to further delay in treatment.

To avoid these problems and reduce the burden on the labs and diagnostic centers, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) given its approval for the COVID-19  Home Testing Kits. These Home Testing Kits are easily available in pharmacies and are one-stop solutions for all the problems with the traditional COVID tests.

What are self-test COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Kits?

These are Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) that are available with the required device along with accessories to test oneself at home. These self-tests can be used to detect both symptomatic and immediate contacts of confirmed cases, as per ICMR guidelines. These over-the-counter self-testing kits do not require a prescription.

A positive test result should be considered as a true positive & does not need reconfirmation by the RT-PCR test.

Negative results must be combined with clinical observations, patient history, and epidemiological information. Symptomatic individuals identified negative by Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) should be linked with RT- PCR test facility and subsequently get tested by RT-PCR to rule out COVID-19 infection. In the meantime, such individuals will be urged to follow home isolation and treatment as a negative report on RAT may not be true negative in some cases.

Who can use the COVID-19 Home Testing Kits?

The test can be used on people who display symptoms of COVID-19 or are high-risk contacts of positive patients. The COVID-19 home test can be used on people who are 18 years of age and above, and even as young as children who are 2 years of age, when the samples are collected by an adult.

What are the contents available in the self-testing kits?

In each self-testing kit, there is an instruction for use leaflet, all the required testing materials, and a biohazard bag for disposal. The testing materials include a nasal swab, test card, and an extraction tube filled with an extraction solution along with Cap.

How to use the COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Self-test  Kit?

Before testing yourself, pick a comfortable spot to take the test. After finalizing the place, wash your hands or sanitize them thoroughly. Also, ensure that the surface on which the kit will be placed is cleaned and disinfected. After opening the contents of the kit

  • Remove the swab from the package. Do not touch the soft end with your hands or anything else.
  • Insert the swab gently into your nostril about 2-4 cm or until resistance is met, 
  • Roll the swab 5 times inside the nostril
  • Use the same swab and repeat this process in the other nostril
  • Place the device on a clean, flat surface
  • Peel off the aluminum foil from the top of the extraction solution tube
  • Insert the nasal swab sample into the extraction solution, and then mix the swab 8 to 10 times
  • Squeeze the swab by the side of the extraction tube and break the swab at the breakpoint, remove the remainder of the swab and mix well
  • Place the dropper cap tightly onto the tube and add 4 drops (100uL) into the sample well
  • Start the timer and wait for 15 mins for the results to show up.

How will I know  I have tested positive?

The test will take 15 – 20 minutes to show accurate results. If both the control band “C” and the test band “T” marked on the testing card are developed, the result is positive. If only the control band “C” is developed and the test band  “T” is not developed, it means that the result is negative. If neither the control band nor the test band develops, or if only the test band develops without the control line, it means that the test is invalid.

How to dispose the COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Kit?

Whether the results are negative or positive, one must dispose of every item from the kit. After using the kit, put the test device,  swab, and the extraction tube in a biohazard disposable bag and put it in the bin.

What are the disadvantages of the Home Testing Kit?

One of the biggest disadvantages of the self-testing kits is the reliability. Though these home tests yield quick results and minimize exposure to the virus, there are chances of the result being negative or invalid if the sample is not being collected correctly, or the swab getting contaminated, which also leads to inaccurate results. Hence, if the home test results are negative and the person still displays symptoms of COVID-19, one must follow up with their healthcare provider for further advice and stay in isolation till confirming test results are received.

These Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Home Testing Kits are helpful in the early detection of the condition. While self-testing, it is extremely important to follow the instructions of your healthcare provider carefully. Although it’s a game-changer during this time, it is important to understand that it is a screening test and to be used as an aid in the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection and cannot replace the confirmatory testing method. So, positive or not, always get in touch with a medical health expert and follow their advice for more information and quick recovery.

Introduction

Though people have started receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses, it is believed that we have to face a great amount of time combating this virus as the vaccine will take a long time for the vaccine to produce a prominent effect, while the pandemic carries on. Till then, people should anticipate that multiple restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic will be continued for some time as we will have to co-operate with the authorities to diminish transmission of COVID-19 infection. It is believed that you will probably be required to continue adorning a mask and keeping a physical distance from each other while in public for quite a few coming months, even after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

No clear change evident for the near future

Everyone must realize that there will be no “instant change” in our community because of limited vaccine production and high demand. Hence, our lives won’t be shifting back to our predetermined notion of “normal” anytime shortly.

Also, vaccines are being given on a priority basis to forefront healthcare workers and the high-risk elderly population. But in a country like India, there are not sufficient vaccine doses available, to meet the required demand.

In addition to the above constraints, some vaccines need “ultra-cold temperature facilities” with -80°C freezers for their storage, which is a challenge for some economically less-developed territories. This situation reflects that facilities having the capacity to store massive quantities of the vaccine properly will be required, and then equally distribute it to every area of a state. The COVID-19 vaccine will need two doses, 3 to 4 weeks apart, as with the majority of other immunizations and for this to be accomplished appropriately, strict public health tracking would have to be in place to ensure people recognize accurate timings to receive their second dose after receiving the first dose.

No more ‘old normal’

Experts believe that there is still no real-world data available to ascertain the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines with complete surety. As of current knowledge, it is likely you could be protected from the symptoms of the disease, but it “might not protect you from getting infected and transmitting the infection. This means that we still need to adhere to the same preventive protocols.

The long road ahead

The duration of effectiveness of the current COVID-19 vaccines is also not clear, unlike the vaccines for other viral diseases, which provide life-long immunization. It is thought that with this coronavirus vaccine, if you get it once, your immunity will leave sooner or later, matching other flu conditions.

However, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of this virus. It doesn’t seem to transform at a rapid rate, like influenza. It means that it won’t require regular development of new vaccines.

However, “patience” is the need of the hour as it will take months for the COVID-19 vaccine to become available freely for a majority of the population. Hence, people must not assume at this juncture that they won’t be needing to wear masks after a couple of months. Instead, people should accept that they still need to follow preventive norms for COVID-19 in terms of face masks and physical distancing for the next 4 to 6 months.

What you can and cannot do after getting your COVID-19 vaccine shot?

Drives for coronavirus vaccination have been initiated all across the globe. In India, over 2 lakh people have been vaccinated as of now and more stages are already in motion to immunize elderly individuals, individuals with co-morbid conditions, subsequently the younger population. At present, vaccination is the only good way of accomplishing herd immunity and will give the authorities and all the people at large, an estimated time by when things would be improving.

However, vaccination does not promise a total end to the pandemic. The vaccines are still experimental, and there is no reliable evidence to support their effectiveness in a “real-world” scenario. Again, mass inoculation and rates of prevention also depend on the number of people getting the vaccine, and the doses accessible for use. Thus, the resumption of a total pre-COVID lifestyle won’t be so relaxed even if vaccines make life easier. Following is a list of actions you can safely perform, and the ones you cannot even after getting vaccinated

1) You can’t throw your mask away at this moment

2) You cannot consume alcohol for 45 days

A vaccine can only perform in the presence of a strong and healthy immune system. For the same reason, it has been recommended to people to avoid consuming alcohol and certain things that can make immunity weak for some days. Alcohol is alleged to destroy the functioning of the immune system and make a person incapable of developing adequate elicitation of an immune response after receiving the vaccine dose. Hence, as per the expert opinion, people should avoid alcohol consumption for at least 45 days after their vaccination.

3) You can resume caring for COVID-19 patients

Caregiving for COVID-19 patients can be initiated by the doctors and health care workers who receive their entire vaccine doses (In most cases, both the doses). Hence, vaccination has been prioritized for the frontline-healthcare workers, doctors, and indispensable staff.

While basic precautions will still need to be followed, with COVID immunized records, you will have faint chances of getting infected from direct exposure to patients, and relieve the anxiety of their loved ones.

4) You will still be required to follow physical distancing

5) You will still be required to avoid public places

Vaccination won’t give people a license to stroll or meet in large numbers- at least at the start. Till an ample proportion of herd immunity is reached, there will be an abundant number of non-immunized people who, if infected, can transmit it to other people.