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Thursday Nov 19 2020

Is the coronavirus becoming deadlier in Pakistan?

Health experts says the virus has not mutated enough to become undetectable. Photo: Files

KARACHI: Amid the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country, the health experts are of the view that so far no concrete evidence is available if the pathogen responsible for causing COVID-19 has significantly mutated and increased its transmissibility.

Dr Faisal Mahmood of the Aga Khan University told The News on Wednesday that so far no evidence is available to suggest this virus has become more lethal, undetectable or even more infectious than before.

Pakistan is in the grip of the second wave of COVID-19 and cases keep piling up. But health experts said that so far no concrete evidence is available if the pathogen responsible for causing coronavirus has significantly mutated and increased its transmissibility.

All viruses normally mutate with time and SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus 2) has slightly mutated too, epidemiologist Dr Rana Jawad Asghar told the publication.

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The second wave started around five weeks ago in Pakistan and other countries and is now obvious from the large-scale hospitalization figures.

But the virus has not mutated enough to become undetectable any more through the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the experts said.

“SARS-CoV-2 is very much detectable through PCR, and that’s why its cases are on the rise,” Dr Asghar had said, adding that PCR and rapid tests have their own limitations and are never 100% accurate.

Infections, however, are increasing, he says, predicting that we will see higher morbidity and mortality numbers because of this increase.

But Dr Mahmood said the behaviour of the virus is unchanged. 

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The AKU associate professor believes it is the irresponsible behaviour of people which is causing a continuous rise in the number of coronavirus cases.

He urged people to take precautionary measures instead of listening to “unproven and unscientific” theories.

Dr Mahmood called the theory of the virus turning deadlier “pure sensationalism” and said it has “no scientific validity.”

‘Hospitals, people better prepared now to deal with virus’

Pulmonologist Dr Javed Khan also says mutations in the coronavirus have not been proved. He said although the number of cases is constantly increasing, the mortality is lower than before.

He suggested that hospitals and doctors may be better prepared and more experienced in diagnosis and treatment now. 

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The public is also better informed and seek help earlier, he said, adding that a social stigma was initially attached to the pandemic.

'Behaviour of virus unchanged'

The coronavirus is doing what it did during the first wave: infecting people who are not complying with the SOPs, pulmonologist Prof Sohail Akhtar explains. He is associated with the Indus Health Network.

He, too, says the behaviour of the virus is unchanged. There is no evidence if the virus has mutated and become more lethal, he said.

The pulmonologist said there is no reliable data or research being done on the behaviour of the virus.