New virus from China not a cause for alarm: Health expert

- December 22, 2023
| By : Muhammad Tahir |

Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a public health & policy expert, says there is no need to panic over the emergence of a new virus from China, but urges people to ensure healthy diet and exercise to keep infections at bay

Representational image: Getty

Due to change in weather, from hot to cold, the number of patients in OPD sections of Delhi hospitals has increased by 20%. 

Delhi is facing poor air quality, and a new pneumonia virus has also come to light in China. To delve deep into the matter and recognise the threats, precautions and remedies, Patriot spoke to Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a public health & policy expert, and the author of the book ‘Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The COVID-19 Pandemic’.


Q: What is the reason behind number of patients increasing in OPD sections of Delhi’s hospitals?

A: Every season brings with it certain diseases. There are more challenges in winter because people live in closed spaces and air pollution increases. These lead to flu and measles among children. Respiratory ailments that start with throat infection also become a problem. The viral illnesses are divided into two sections: upper respiratory tract infection (URI) and lower respiratory tract infection (LRI). Normal cough-cold which doesn’t affect lungs comes under URI while the one that enters the lungs is called LRI. 

Q: What are the symptoms of viral illnesses?

A: Viral illness has common symptoms. In respiratory viral illness, patients feel a slight fever. There is breathing problem but it is lesser than in other viral illnesses. Our immune system gets weak, leading to bacteria harming the body. It is interlinked. If people are infected repeatedly then there is a risk of bacterial infection spreading. People who have been affected with long-term illness such as diabetes are at a higher risk of suffering major illnesses in winters compared to healthy persons. 

Q: Recently, a new pneumonia virus came to light in China. What is this and how dangerous it is? 

A: This is a non-bacterial infection, which has been known for a long time and has been reported widely. In China, the main reason for the current situation is that they imposed a lockdown and restriction for far too long. Generally, viruses live in the environment and change from time to time. Viruses react differently at different places, so in the Indian context, this one is not that harmful. Viruses are of three types. Novel virus like corona is something that was not there earlier. It is dangerous for all. The emergent virus or emerging virus is already present in some places in the world. So, it is dangerous for one community.

Dr Chandrakant Lahariya
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya

Re-emerging virus is something that arrives, affects a few and then becomes extinct incidentally. China’s current virus is a local transmission, so, it is not that dangerous until now.

Q: Can it spread as widely as Covid? The novel coronavirus also emerged in China first and got transmitted to the whole world later.

A: No! Not possible yet. The Covid type virus comes once in a lifetime, and is not predictable. The probability is that this type of virus will not come in the next 50 years.

Q: As pollution levels in Delhi are still in ‘poor’ category, how dangerous can this be?

A: Pollution in Delhi is very dangerous and equal to consuming a certain number of cigarettes. I can’t state the exact number of cigarettes, but air pollution is very dangerous for everyone. If 15% people consume cigarettes, it is only they who suffer. But when it comes to air pollution, it affects the entire population. 

Q: Do people, affected by Covid, have to take special precautions during winters?

A: Current diseases of cold and cough are seasonal viruses. They are not very dangerous. But if you are already suffering, then the risk increases.

Q: Dengue cases have been high over the last five years. Is it the effect of floods, which Delhi endured a few months ago?

A: Yes! That also had an impact. When floods hit Delhi, the water-borne illnesses increased. But dengue is a cyclical pattern illness. Dengue cases increase after every 3-4 years. Why they increase, is something that couldn’t be found out yet. To prevent it, we should prevent ‘mosquito-breeding’. 

Q: There is also an increase in cases of sudden death among the youth. Recent NCRB data shows that such cases have increased. Some are connecting this to the effect of Covid vaccine.

A: The ICMR study recently revealed that there is no link of sudden death to vaccination. It was reported that some of the youth died in gym. There are many studies that show that exercise has a pattern. If anyone exercises more than he is capable of, it can be harmful. Secondly, if physically inactive people exercise, they can suffer cardiac arrest.

Q: What are your suggestions regarding diet and exercise to prevent disease this winter?

A: Basic principles of lifestyle are very simple. Physical activity is the best medicine. Thirty minutes of physical activity (60 minutes for diabetic patients) five times a week is profitable. Weight reduction is also important. Five to 10 per cent reduction in weight leads to a decrease in non-alcoholic fatality. Secondly, a healthy diet is also very important. We should avoid junk food, packaged food should also be completely avoided. Thirdly, there needs to be reduction in stress since it can disbalance life. The main cure to reduce stress is sleep. People don’t understand its importance. We should sleep on time regularly and have dinner 1-2 hours before going to bed. A study says that less than six hours and more than 8 hours of sleep is harmful. We should take care of it. Avoid using mobile phones and stay away from them at night when it is time to sleep. Also, we should remain hydrated and keep drinking water to negate the effects of pollution. We have no control over air quality but we can improve our immunity through a healthy diet.