Home / Opinion / Views /  No, there is no evidence that Indians have stronger immunity

I agree that fear is a big virus, that once it begins to spread, it can knock the whimmy out of a perfectly healthy bloke. Social media has changed the way we perceive illnesses, whether acute or chronic. The source of the information is rarely alluded to, and if it is a person reasonably respected in social circles, it gets circulated as reliable, something it can be far from.

Even if 10% of a population (much higher than what has happened in Wuhan) got the infection, the case fatality rate (in Wuhan < 4%) still makes your risk of dying it from very low. People do not introspect on this, as there’s already new information (every hour these days) about cases coming in from over a hundred countries, and figures crossing 150,000 cases and 5,000 deaths make more headlines and stir greater interest than the burgeoning global population of 7.8 billion and other pressing issues.

Yet, unlike the surmise offered by Sandipan Deb in “Why It Makes No Sense For Us To Panic Over The Coronavirus", Mint, 9 March 2020 , there is no evidence to suggest that “Indians in general" have a stronger immune system to fight Covid-19. The human immune system is very complex, and interacts differently with a range of variables based on the environment and various other factors, including smoking, use of immunosuppressant drugs, sleep, stress and exercise. Therefore, suggesting that Indians have “stronger immune systems" is a highly generic and misleading statement. How do we then explain that we have the largest share of the global burden (27%) of tuberculosis-poor T Cell function?

And, on the other side we also have the second highest prevalence of asthma (overactive immune system) in the world, and the highest number of asthma deaths (Global Burden of Disease data) in the world.

I hope we can all sit back and focus on individual responsible behaviour here, from simple washing of hands, social distancing, taking care of our elderly population in the most sensible ways possible (preventing falls, preventing pneumonia and other influenza including swine flu, with vaccinations), and ensuring that patients on immunosuppressants can possibly go off them for a few weeks from now, especially those with chronic illnesses in remission like rheumatoid arthritis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (I see the latter a lot as an interstitial lung disease specialist).

Some of these measures would certainly help our high-risk groups from contracting and dying from Covid-19.

That said, we need to get on with our lives, Covid 19 or not. And we need to do it in the most sensible way. If we sit back and think how we are going about it these days, I do believe we will realize how much fear can take control of many aspects of our daily lives. Only humans can control fear. Let it not be the other way round.

Sujeet Rajan is MD, DETRD, DNB Consultant Respiratory Physician, Interstitial Lung Diseases/ILD Clinic, Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences, and Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai

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