Three cases of Omicron BF.7 strain, that is driving the current wave of Covid infections in China, have been detected in India so far. The first case of the highly infectious strain with greater transmissibility was detected in Gujarat earlier in October. With 2 in Gujarat and 1 in Odisha, the number of Omicron BF.7 cases in India now stand at 3. While this hasn’t really created a big panic so far, the new Omicron variant is known to spread very fast and has a shorter incubation period. It has been reported that it will infect 60% of people in China in the coming three months. Looking at the transmissibility of the virus, is a new Covid wave expected in India too? We asked a few experts. (Also read: 5 reasons you are catching cold frequently this winter)
IT COULD BE A HORRIBLE SCENARIO: EXPERT ON POSSIBILITY OF FRESH COVID WAVE
Dr Ravindra Gupta, Dept of Internal Medicine at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Gurugram says that with people travelling across the world at this point, the possibility of Covid spreading worldwide is high.
“Currently, coronavirus is taking its new mutation and is in the form of Covid BF.7 which is a variant of Omicron. This variant is found to infect China and has a high transmission ability. It is very quick to transfer to other people and has a short incubation period as well. It is informed to be infecting people very easily. It has also been suspected that 60% of people in China will be infected by this variant in the next three months. It is a horrible scenario that could take place and with people traveling all across the globe, it is possible for the disease to spread worldwide with air travel,” says Dr Gupta.
Dr Charu Dutt Arora, Consultant Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist Head, Ameri Health, Asian Hospital, Faridabad says the news of a recent spike in Covid-19 infected positive cases across China, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil and US have caused a state of distress across the world, including India. He says that the tweet of Mr Eric Dengi, an epidemiologist from China stating that “this virus can lead to deaths of millions across China in next few months” is concerning.
QUICKER INFECTION RATE, GET VACCINATED
“The wave of Covid-19 in China is being caused by virus Omicron BF.18.104.22.168, also called as BF.7. It is a variant mutant of the Omicron and has one of the highest transmissibility amongst all COVID variants so far. The R0 value of this mutant as per studies is approximately 10-18.6 which means that any infected individual can infect 10-18.6 people around him. Also, there is quicker infection rate of this virus, in hours, which makes it difficult to be detected in RT-PCR test. People who are not vaccinated or have weaker immunity such as elderly citizens, children, pregnant females or ones with multiple co-morbidities (cancer, uncontrolled diabetes, cardiac or kidney diseases) are at a high risk of catching this infection.
Dr Amitabha Ghosh, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Manipal Hospitals, Gurugram says that although the new variant is not as fatal it transmits faster than other Omicron variants.
FOURTH SHOT OF COVID VACCINE CAN HELP
“Just like other variants of Omicron, BF.7 is also another subvariant that has a very fast transmission rate. As per several data, the rate of fatality is not high for this variant but surely it transmits faster than the other Omicron variants. In India, there are very few cases of mortality and hospitalization but it also depends on various factors including a person’s immunity and pre-existing comorbidities,” says Dr Ghosh.
Dr Gupta says while the symptoms are mild, the wave in China is expected to kill one million people alone. He says that a fourth shot of vaccine may be helpful in preventing these probable deaths.
OMICRON BF.7 SYMPTOMS
“The symptoms remain the same as with any other upper respiratory infection such as fever, cough, sore throat, and running nose. There is suspicion that this wave could kill one million people alone in China. It is also probable that if people get three to four shots of the vaccine, they may get protected. It is therefore very important for everyone to be more vigilant and responsive to taking Covid vaccines. A fourth vaccine might be helpful in preventing this serious gruesome scenario. A person infected with this virus, even if they are asymptomatic, can transmit the virus to another 10-18 people. Only time will tell, what happens in the next few months, but we should be vigilant, should seriously follow Covid appropriate behaviour, and avoid traveling as much as possible,” says Dr Gupta.
“The common symptoms include common cold, fever, fatigue, sore throat, headache and body pain. Cough and respiratory symptoms are also present in infected patients. People are also presenting with abdominal symptoms such as stomach pain and loose motions,” says Dr Arora.
“The signs and symptoms of BF.7 are pretty similar to other omnicorn variants fever, sore throught, runny nose. Cases of pneumonia with BF.7 variant are definitely lesser and the ones that are seen in an elderly population or people with underlying conditions. We are not seeing too many hospitalisation with Omicron and early data from countries that are seeing BF.7 also tell us that the mortality of BF.7 is low,” says Dr Trupti Gilada, Infectious disease specialist, Masina Hospital, Mumbai.
OMICRON BF.7 PRECAUTIONS
Dr Ghosh says one must maintain proper hygiene, wear a mask, wash hands, to prevent the infection. He says that people with low immunity must be extra cautious while vaccine and booster shots can be useful in preventing mortality and complications of the subvariants.
“Till now it is not clear which age group it affects the most but it is certain that people with low immunity are at a higher risk. Also, now that people are more exposed to COVID and its variants, they are automatically developing immunity against this virus and the upcoming variants. With the help of vaccines and booster shots, people are now able to tackle the virus in a better way and it has helped in preventing of the complications of the subvariants,” says Dr Ghosh.
“It is imperative that one must follow COVID appropriate behaviour and rules as laid by the local bodies in order to control the spread. With restrictions eased out worldwide and the festive season in-swing, it is important to continue mass vaccination drive. Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate is the most important strategy to check this infection and its community outbreaks,” says Dr Arora.
IS THERE A NEED TO PANIC?
“Going forward the yardstick to measure the severity of a covid wave should not be mere number of cases because most of these will be mild. The yardatick should now be number of moderate to severe cases of those requiring oxygen or those requiring hospitalization. So public health action needs to be based on severe infections because mild infections will be common everytime there is a new mutation. And India paid its price with the delta wave where we lost a lot of our people and those who survived have good immunity to covid and so is the status of our very good vaccination. So for India per se, we have a comparatively immune population and those who will be infected with BF.7 in future should be mild and while we are on the watchout, we should continue to do genomic studies and understand what every variant looks like, and it still should not be a cause of panic,” says Dr Gilada.