COVID19: Dr Naveed Nazir Shah, India’s leading chest specialist on weather, food, and precautions

Srinagar, Mar 17: Like the rest of the world, Kashmir too is grappling with coronavirus pandemic. Although, officially no one has tested positive in the valley, the situation can rapidly change, as has happened in many places across the world.

While social distancing and cough and sneeze etiquettes are important, there are many unanswered questions regarding this virus and its fallout.

To clarify the same, The Kashmir Monitor Editor Nisar Dharma spoke to Dr Naveed Nazir Shah, HOD, Government Chest Diseases (CD) Hospital, Srinagar and a leading pulmonologist of India, about the myths, reality and the current crises in the wake of the pandemic.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

KM: Thank you for speaking to The Kashmir Monitor. We understand that there is a global panic due to Covid-19. Where does Kashmir stand?

Dr: If we talk of Kashmir, we have established testing as well as quarantine facilities in hospitals including at CD hospital too. So far, at CD hospital we tested six patients of which four have been declared negative and reports of two are yet to arrive. Thankfully, we have no positive cases from Kashmir yet.

KM: There is a common notion that the virus will go away when the temperature increases. What is your take on it?

Dr: See, any virus’s life is dependent on the temperature. But we cannot say that it will be completely eliminated in summers. A person who has a viral infection can always transmit the same, no matter if it is summers or winters. Sunlight and hot weather can diminish the life of the virus on surface areas only.

KM: In Kashmir, people have almost stopped having chicken, and have reduced intake of non-vegetarian food, thinking the same will lead to the virus. What do you suggest?

Dr: The primary transmission of the virus, as the speculations are, happened from bats, snakes, or other animals (in China). But after that we haven’t seen the transmission happening from animals to humans, it has majorly been human to human transmission. So, if we cook any non-vegetarian food, including chicken, properly, the chances of getting the virus are nil. But we have to ensure we wash and cook such food properly.

KM: Seeing the fatality rate and the cases, we see it is mostly elderly and ill who are at greater risk. Is it possible that a person can have coronavirus and not show any symptoms of it?

Dr: There is a very dangerous phenomenon regarding coronavirus. The transmission of this virus usually starts before a patient becomes symptomatic. And then there are some who only work as carriers and do not show any major symptoms, or no symptoms at all but they still continue to transmit the virus. As far as fatality is concerned, statistics, so far, show that it is around 2 to 3 percent including such patients who are already immune-compromised, elderly, or have other systemic illnesses.

KM: Till now all the positive cases are those who had a travel history to affected countries, or those who were in contact with such people. The community spread, so far, hasn’t taken place. As such, what are the basic precautions that people should exercise?

Dr: There are two things to it. One is precautions for those who have a travel history or have come in contact with such people. And the other is precautions for the general public. For suspected patients and travellers, it is their moral responsibility to inform the authorities of their entire travel history, symptoms and contacts, even though there are screening procedures at all entry points. We advise such persons to voluntarily disclose the information. For patients who have Covid-19 symptoms, or even flu symptoms, they should follow basic cough and sneeze etiquettes and see a doctor immediately. For the rest of the population, they should ensure they wash their hands regularly and avoid going into crowded places. If we follow these precautions strictly, we can cope with it.

KM: Would you suggest authorities test more and more people? Reports are that India is not testing as many as it can, unlike other countries. What do you suggest?

Dr: There are guidelines for who should be tested. We cannot go on testing people randomly. We have to test those who have the travel history and show any symptoms or those who have come in contact with such people. But testing any and everyone is not advisable. And those who are tested, no matter the results, have to be mandatorily quarantined for 14 days.

KM: Do you think there is a need for even stricter social isolation in Kashmir? That there should be stricter measures in place?

Dr: Of course. Overall, if we see the government has already taken measures like banning large gatherings etc. The people have to understand it as well. Patients too have to cooperate since it is not just for their benefit but for the benefit of the entire population.

KM: For instance, if there is someone with flu symptoms and no travel history. Should he visit a doctor’s clinic or come to the hospital directly?

Dr: See coronavirus as a pandemic has been publicly notified. Anyone with flu symptoms–cough, fever, nasal congestion, breathing issues–he or she can visit a doctor as well and the doctor, after examining the patient, can suggest whether the patient requires testing or quarantine. We can also suggest such patients go for home quarantine.

KM: Doctors are at the frontline of the battle. How do you people cope with it knowing the risk factor is relatively higher?

Dr: Seeing and treating patients is our job. The health department has established separate respiratory OPDs where doctors have to take adequate precautions. We use a proper disposable kit before treating such patients.

KM: Dr Shah, being an expert in treating chest diseases, what should be your message for the general public?

Dr: So far, no positive case has been detected in Kashmir. So there is no need to panic. People should ensure that they take adequate precautions. And any one with symptoms of flu should follow basic cough, sneeze etiquettes. For the general public, if they do not have hand sanitisers available, they can use soap water to sanitise their hands. About masks, not everyone needs them. Masks are important for suspected patients and health workers. Besides, the life of these masks is also limited. If one uses them for long, they can increase the chances of virus transmission. 

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About the Author

A journalist by chance with over five years of experience in reporting, editing, and bucketing local, national and international content for my current organization. I have covered education, health, politics, and human rights. I like working for a daily, though I occasionally try my pen in long-form to connect personal narratives with history.

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