Dr. Debraj Jash is a medical practitioner from Kolkata and is one of the six DMs in West Bengal. Currently, he is attached to Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. He graduated with an MBBS degree in February 2008 from the prestigious NRS Medical College, Hospital, WBUHS and earned an M.D. degree (with 1st position in the final examination) from the same institution.

Being a passionate medical practitioner, Dr. Debraj Jash excels in treating COPD, Interventional Pulmonology (with EBUS), asthma in elderly and allergy related diseases.

In an exclusive interview with Assistant Editor of Protector, Mohammad Asif, Dr. Debraj Jash answered some questions related to the coronavirus pandemic and the new COVID strain.

The toll from the COVID-19 crossed 1.5 lakh and India became the world’s third country to record more than 1.5 lakh deaths from the pandemic, amid a general decline in the fatalities.

Q. What are the likely symptoms of coronavirus infection?

A. The symptoms are still the same but nowadays most of the patients are asymptomatic. Fever and cough are some of the symptoms, others being the loss of taste and smell (anosmia phantosmia). Apart from these, there can be stomach ache, back pain. But one advice to be strictly followed is that if a person develops fever or suffers from chronic respiratory diseases with declining oxygen saturation level, then he should immediately get a PCR test done.

Q. If someone tests COVID positive, what are the steps to be taken & precautions to be followed?

A. As everyone knows social distancing, hand sanitisation; wearing of masks while going outside are the key rules. Secondly, most of the COVID cases are mild which mean they can be treated at home. They should set up tele-consultation with their doctors and must have a pulse oximeter with them. Home treatment is adequate if the reading says 94% or above.

Q. Are the coronavirus cases relatively less in India compared to the rest of the world?

A. No, I strongly disagree. Since there is a lack of awareness coupled with lesser number of tests in this big country. I am telling from my experience that this disease is not something that will affect one country more than the other.

Q. There has been a new strain of corona which has reached India as well. What will be its impact?

A. Every virus, including the COVID-19 follows one rule & that is to change its characteristics over the time. This is known as mutation. This probably has happened before but now with evolving technologies like genomic testing, we can say for sure. So far, it is more contagious which means it spreads faster but on the brighter side, it is less virulent which means it causes less damage to the body.

Q. Many companies have been working on vaccines production. How effective are vaccines in the current scenario? How long will it take for the vaccine to work?

A. In order for a vaccine to be effective, a lot many things come into play. Especially in a country like India, it requires apt storage, transportation etc. If we can provide the vaccine to even 30 crore Indians, it will break the chain of transmission. For example, if in my family, me and my elderly parents are vaccinated, then they will be spared from getting infected which may be life threatening. That’s how it breaks the chain of transmissions. So for a disease like Corona infection, vaccines are extremely important.

Q. Do lifestyle changes play a part in preventing infection in people who are COVID negative?

A. Basic preventive measures, like I said before, are social distancing & hand sanitisation. They are most important.

Q. As the frontline COVID warriors, police, doctor and health workers have been fighting the battle for the past 8-9 months?

A. First and foremost, I extend my congratulations & good wishes to the police because according to me, doctors and health workers have still been given a certain amount of recognition but the police don’t even know if the person with whom they are interacting is infected or not. And, still they go at lengths to arrange ambulance and other required services. It still feels okay to work within such uncertain circumstances for a day but for months together is really an onerous task.

Healthcare professionals & police have been doing their duties endlessly since the last nine months and they have to keep doing it for long. But I congratulate the police department for their selfless service. We have lost many policemen and their family members too. But this is our job & we have to keep on doing it.

Q. Why is there a state of panic among the general population towards COVID infected individuals?

A. This panic was greater 6 months ago but since then many people have been infected or have gone through similar experiences. But, now the fear has decreased.

Q. Even after a patient recovers, he faces post-COVID complications. What are they?

A. Steroid is a medicine which is being administered to patients with COVID infections. This medicine makes the body susceptible to other infections. So we have to take precaution. Given that, now it’s winter and we are prone to pneumonia, cough & cold. We have to avoid things which trigger cold and cough.

Q. Corona infection is causing fibrosis and because of it, the harmful effect on lungs is persisting for a longer time. Is it possible for the lungs to recover fully?

A. Fibrosis, if it occurs, requires medication and the entire world recommends steroid as a treatment for fibrosis of lungs. It is to be administered under supervision. CT scan of thorax is required. There is a specific term called ground-glassing which can tell us about the amount of fibrosis.

There is a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which too causes fibrosis and drugs like Nintedanib & pirfenidone are used against it. Similarly to prevent fibrosis in COVID patients, these drugs are also being tried but their efficacy will be determined over time.

Q. Is it possible to completely reverse the damage caused by COVID to the lungs?

A. Probably not completely, but yes with the three drugs like steroid, nintedanib & pirfenidone, exercising our lungs by means of incentive spirometry, inhalers in some cases, doing regular activities & of course, with time, recovery is possible.

Q. Pollution is an important factor in today’s world. How does pollution play a role in the COVID infection?

A. Of course, pollution has a big role to play. Pollution also causes damage to lungs. For example, if pollution causes 5% damage to lungs, and corona another 5%, then the overall damage to the organ doubles. Therefore, yes pollution definitely exacerbates the lung damage coupled with corona infection.

Q. It is said that even our intestines & brain are being affected by corona so what can be done?

A. Yes, it does occur but in very small numbers of patients. This is highly unpredictable & nothing much can be done to prevent it. Some COVID infected patients have altered sensorium & encephalopathy but there is no particular medicine to prevent it.

Q. Not just elderly, even youths aged 30-35 years are dying from this infection?

A. Yes, it happens but, of course, the number is very less. It should not be worrisome since out of 100 young individuals, between 95 and 99% have recovered. But like everyone else, they should also follow the rules strictly.

Q. Who are the people at a greater risk of complications?

A. Those in which co-morbidities are present. Even in young people, those who have diabetes. Then obese people…Those with endocrine disorders… chronic smokers…they are more prone to infection & complication.

Q. Many products are being marketed as immunity boosters and the general population is advised to take them. What is your opinion about them?

A. They are baseless. I don’t believe in any of them. I only believe in a good balanced diet.

Q. What about alternative medicine?

A. I don’t know about alternate forms of medicine. So I can’t answer.

Q. How long will it take for the situation to normalise after the vaccine is out?

A. Only time will tell. Hopefully, it will be better than today. Hoping for the best.

Q. What are the drugs & treatment modalities currently being practiced that show maximum efficacy?

A. From the 9 months of experience, we have seen that Remdesivir has been recommended in many countries, Monoclonal antibody is being tried. Then convalescent plasma infusion has been proposed but not yet tried.