Microbiologist cautions on COVID-19

Correspondent Shillong, Apr 26 | Publish Date: 4/26/2020 8:20:00 AM IST
Even as the Meghalaya government has so far been able to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus, experts sounded caution against any complacency.
 “This virus is new, and it may remain asymptomatic in a person beyond two weeks, a period when the virus is expected to manifest. An asymptomatic patient is as dangerous as the symptomatic patient,” says India’s leading microbiologist Dr. Rajesh N. Sharan.
Sharan, a Professor of Molecular Biology at Department of Biochemistry of North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) here in Meghalaya, said,  “The only and only options left to humanity to control and break the spread of the virus is by strictly adhering to the global health guidelines, which we in India are also following it.”
“We have no other option at this time. Of course, this virus seriously threatens the well-being of the weaker sections of the society. So, we need to put in place appropriate measures to take care of this section of the society until the norms change,” he said.
On Meghalaya government not being able to trace the source of COVID-19 that had infected and killed the first positive patient, Sharan said, “.. I would say that the source is something else and the most likely source is elsewhere. We should not make conjectures. We must have solid scientific evidence for it.”
Asked if antibody screening for coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is needed, Sharan, who had earlier developed a bio-molecular marker for detection of early cancer in human body, said, “antibody screening is very quick and much less technical as compared to Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) screening, which is time consuming and highly technical.” 
“While the PCR test is definitive, antibody test is indicative. So, depending on the need, the test methodology has to be chosen. If the purpose is to screening the population or a population group, antibody test may be better since it is quick and simple. But if we want a confirmatory diagnostic test, we shall need a PCR test only,” he explained. 
On reports of different strains in different countries, Sharan, who is also the founding council member of Asian Association of Radiation Research, Japan said, “Yes, this appears to be the case based on whatever limited information is available at this point in time from different labs in different countries. As I said earlier, in absence of credible and reproducible results on different strain of the virus from different countries, it would be premature to conclude anything.” 
“In my opinion, however, high and low rates of mutation of DNA and RNA viruses, respectively, is nothing to do with being ‘smart’ or not. It is to do with the life machinery used to replicate the virus. DNA viruses use DNA polymerase for replication that has high fidelity, while RNA viruses use Reverse transcriptase for the same purpose that has low fidelity. The two processes have different characteristics and that influences their rates of mutation,” he added. 
Asked about the percentage resemblance or difference in the genomic make up of the ‘corona’ and the novel corona virus strains,  Sharan, who  did his post-doctoral research at the Institute of Medicine, FZ, Jűlich and DKFZ, Heidelberg in Germany, said, “As the latest strain of corona virus, the novel corona virus/SARS- CoV-2, is a new type or variant (a few months old – first reported in perhaps November/December 2019 and under intensive research at this time across the globe), not much is known and understood about it. So it is difficult to compare it with its older variants. However, this class of virus is a RNA virus, with small genome (about 30 kNT). Very characteristic about it is – and applies to all RNA viruses – that it mutates faster than, say DNA viruses, and hence newer variant get formed at a faster pace than other DNA viruses.”        
Asked if the plasma therapy of the recovered people would be more effective and beneficial, the microbiologist said, “Only a few such clinical evidences are available till today. The blood plasma of a person recovered recently from the Covid-19 viral infection is likely to be rich in the antibody against the virus. If that enriched plasma is transfused to another person who is suffering from Covid-19 infection, the person will get a booster of antibody present in plasma.” 


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