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Scientific courage to fight against COVID -19

By : Dr Mohd Mustaque Ahmed

The most taken care human part by this time is our hands. It is advised to frequently wash it.  We are not to touch by our hands to our faces including eyes, noses and mouths that often. We are all habituated to be touching our vital parts in the facial area most often. Many of us habitually prick our noses by using our fingers, don’t blame this universal habit. Although earlier miasma theory (bad air theory) was disapproved, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) once maintained neat & cleanliness and sanitizer. COVID-19 pandemic around this time, people have started accepting the theory of cleanliness by using mask and other accessories.
Practically I knew of a plant virus TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus) during my undergraduate classes. In the laboratory we were supplied with this virus. After the inoculation of this virus to a live plant it started to wither within some minutes. The result was so fast it was unimaginable. That we studied of a plant virus and the credit of discovering (1892) this virus goes to Iwanowski aka D. Ivanovsky(1864-1920).  Virus (virulent=poison or agent that causes infectious disease) is smaller than bacteria and it lives as a parasite in the host living organisms and it is an acellular in nature. The reality is that virus does not survive out of its host except culturing it in an artificial nutrient medium.  
After the discovery of Electron Microscope (1931) by E.Ruska and M.Knoll, it came to know the size and structure of a virus. Virus has protein coats and either DNA or RNA but not both. Later Stanley deciphered more about TMV & proteins and F.Bawden & N.Pirie studied more about proteins and DNA of a Virus.  We heard of the deadliest viruses for e.g. Nipah virus, SARS, Ebola, Hepatitis, Cholera, Plague and HIV, all of which produces killer diseases. Thus we recognize the history of pandemic killing humans across countries in millions associated with diseases. Historically, other deadliest killer viral diseases happened viz. Antonine Plague (165 AD), Plague of Justinian (541-524 AD), Black death(1346-1353), Flu Pandemic (1889-1890), 3rd Cholera Pandemic(1852-1860), 6th Cholera Pandemic (1899-1923),  Flu Pandemic (1910 to 1911), Flu Pandemic (1918), Asian Flu (1956-1958), Flu Pandemic (1968) and HIV( peak years 2005 to 2012). These took human lives in millions. Seeing the data below human deaths resulted most from Bubonic plague (Small pox, Typhoid, Typhus) and Flu (influenza virus) and HIV/AIDS. There are complexities in the path of therapeutic development that we cannot cure HIV viruses till date.
Table 1: History of human deaths by viral epidemic/pandemic condition
In ancient time the humans were so helpless that epidemic or pandemic conditions brought ravaged of human beings and the civilizations were distorted. In 3000 BC in one of the devastation in China the death bodies were buried in mass graves or the houses consisting of many deaths were burnt down. One of its archaeological signatures of a mass grave consisting heaps of skeletons in ‘Hamin Mangha’ is still valid. It is said that this place in China was not inhabited again. Second thing, in the history the bubonic plague (may be typhoid, small pox and typhus) of Athens (541-524 AD) could be remembered which killed one by third (1 million) of its total population (3 million). It was recorded to have started south of Ethiopia. It left the famous Spartan (Greece) civilization stunned. Because it’s heroic army were totally decimated.
In the history of development of vaccine we cannot forget the contributions of Edward Jenner (1749-1823) and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). The first one produced vaccine (1796) against cowpox and the second person produced the vaccines against cholera (1897) & anthrax vaccine of humans (1904) respectively. Then there came the invention of the vaccine against bubonic plague by W.Haffkine by the year 1897 during Bombay plague.
Modern means like Next generation sequencing (NGS) and Metagenomic approaches (MGA) have known viral novelties including new virus like a COVID-19 or novel Coronavirus or SARS CoV-2. But this time the character of the virus is typical. It can survive out of the host for some hours to some days. Like some other communicable diseases it belongs to family. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) are virus of the same family of COVID-19 and the latter is difficult to deal with. COVID-19 infects lungs, airways associated with high fever, fatigue and dry cough. Symptoms may be associated with sore throat, chest congestion and runny nose also.  Structurally this has a typical spherical shape and outward projections of similar type which are different from other viruses. It is believed that it might have been originated from a bat, swine and pangolin, yet, it is to be confirmed. Genetically the virus is very near to these animals. How this has been transmitted to humans is still a mystery. But, the question remains whether it’s a mutated form of SARS Corona virus or novel one. However, it has been recently recognized by scientist that it’s a novel one.
Table 2: Present scenario of humans affected by COVID-19
We are having reports that till date there have been 12, 000 deaths, 1,90,000 still active  and 3 lakhs confirmed cases due to this virus worldwide (21/3/20, Washington Post). It is retrieved from the information that China way of blocking the spread of this disease is very determined and serious. Even some states in China have not been reached by this disease. The way it spreads to other countries is very fast and swift. It affected numerous countries because the world is becoming a global village. Surprisingly, we could see more human deaths in country like Italy.
Now the world will experience economical slow-down as predicted. Yes, there will be bad economical experience everywhere which will be borderless. There is an already political blame game with there is a suspicion theory that the virus has been created by China. This theory believes that it escaped from its testing laboratory and blah blah. Whatever it may be the human efforts are undergoing worldwide to bring to a halt to further spread of this virus. I believe this scientific effort will bring positive result and human beings will be blessed again. The situation is not at all scary that the affected persons have been cured by using medicines like Chloroquin, Lopinavir and Ritonavir. Therefore, the effort will require a lot of political courage, policies, awareness, financial input, togetherness and patience. In short, the world has to be united to mitigate the problematic virus for all time to come.  
(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Dept. of Botany, United College, Lambung, Chandel)

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