April 03, 2020
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A drug ‘repurposed’ for coronavirus is entering the battle

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An Indian arrives from Wuhan
Photograph by PTI
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The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has offered an experimental drug for treatment of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the country, responding to the global outbreak of the disease that has infected more than 20,000 people across 24 countries, and taken about 350 lives so far, mainly in China. “Even as other people are searching for cures, ICMR has started thinking in terms of providing one of the medicines, which is still an experimental repurposed drug, on compassionate grounds,” Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, head of  epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, tells Outlook. He declines, however, to give away the medicine’s name, given people’s propensity to self-medicate. Gangakhedkar warns against using the drug on unconfirmed cases. “We have suggested its use only in cases where there is documented evidence of the person having the virus. Also, you should take this drug only if you feel comfortable,” says the national award-winning doctor.

Like most viruses, novel coronavirus is highly contagious. But Gangakhed­kar says there is no need to panic if people follow precautions such as washing hands often, not spitting in public spaces, and using clean tissues or handkerchiefs to cover the face while sneezing/coughing. Coronavirus, he says, has a low mortality rate, but is easily transmitted. The public fear stems not solely from pictures of paramedics in spacesuit-style attire, face masks and patients in ICUs, but from the fact that this virus strain does not have a vaccine and it is hard to tell apart the symptoms of a mild flu from that of a coronavirus infection.

The latest WHO bulletin says 20,630 people have been infected so far globally, with China where it originated accounting for 20,438. In India, three cases have been reported so far, all of whom had returned from China’s Wuhan, the epicentre. The WHO points out that people of all ages can be infected, but the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more susceptible.

India is on high alert. Dr Tamorish Kole, president, Asian Society for Emergency Medicine, says hospitals, especially their emergency departments, should be more cautious and prepared. “The protocol is to screen suspects and send them to nodal hospitals if required,” he advises.

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