An opportunistic virus
Very few children seem to be getting infected by the new coronavirus and even fewer are actually getting sick from it. Having watched its progress through treating patients with a wide range of severity of symptoms, I have reached a fairly simple conclusion. The new coronavirus is a mean and opportunistic virus. It is like a bully that oppresses the weak and vulnerable. It’s constantly on the lookout for victims that it can overpower. It cannot harm or at least does not seem capable of harming a person with a strong constitution. A healthy person may not even realise that the virus has invaded his or her body. However, the virus uses healthy people as a way to infect others who might be weaker and more vulnerable. This is a classic trait of an opportunist! It preys and harms the weak and spares the strong. This reminds me of the Ladakhi proverb, “Nyam chung nga Shig ge tsod chad” (Even lice will bully a docile person).
I will admit that I was happy in the initial days when it was believed that children might be immune to this virus. It was seen that among all cases of this new disease, only 1% or less were below 18 years of age. This was a relief to most parents, including me. While this still seems to be true to a large extent, children have started showing a diversity of symptoms caused by novel coronavirus besides regular cough and fever.
One of our recent patients is a 14-year-old boy. It seems perhaps coronavirus was too weak to overpower him earlier or the boy was too strong for this opportunistic virus. Perhaps the virus has been lingering around him for some time but could not harm in any way. The boy probably took all precautions including wearing a mask and washing his hands frequently. And yet, he was to soon become infected by this mean virus.
The boy met with an accident when he fell from a tree while playing. The resulting injury confined him to a bed for a few weeks and weakened him. This served as an opportunity for coronavirus and it managed to overpower his otherwise strong immune system. He developed a very severe form of the disease. Think there are many lessons here for us to ensure that we are healthy, fit, and strong at all times.
However, I cannot help but wonder if the coronavirus is not worried about its own survival if it continues to harm its victims. Every creature, including humans and plants, are constantly trying to increase their population. However, nature always has system of checks and balances. For instance, human action causes a decline in bird population, which in turn results in an increase in insect population that will decrease the yield of human farms! This leads to major social, economic and environmental challenges. Nature does not favour anyone and has systems to check all forms of excesses.
So, what will happen to coronavirus? Nature will not tolerate the havoc caused by this virus. It will increase human capacity to counter this opportunistic virus by modifying our immune system by producing immunoglobins. We have seen this happen countless times in the history of all living creatures on the plant. Nature teaches us and we have to learn. Perhaps, this time we will work in sync with nature to live healthier lives and respect the environment. In turn, we will be able to develop a vaccine to help our body strengthen its defences before the virus invades it.
As of now, it the most important thing we need to do is protect high risk individuals who have a weaker immune system that makes them vulnerable to the ravages of this virus. At the same time, we all must adopt healthy lifestyle habits in terms of our diets, give up addictions (smoking, alcohol etc) exercise regularly, which will hold us in good stead even beyond the current pandemic.
As for our 14-year-old patient, he has turned out to be rather brave. He seems to be emerging from the disease through his mental and physical strength. I have witnessed him counter the bully. He is currently recuperating well and waiting for the results of his test that will tell him if the opportunistic virus has left his body.
By Dr Spalchen Gonbo
Dr Spalchen Gonbo is a Paediatrician based in Leh.