26 lakh Kashmiris have recovered from COVID19 infection: Survey

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The first-ever sero-prevalence study carried across Kashmir has found that nearly four out of every 10 people here have developed antibodies against COVID19.

Experts say that this means these people have recovered from the infection and may now have “some degree of protection” against the virus.

The survey carried out by Government Medical College, Srinagar in collaboration with a number of health institutes in Kashmir division analysed samples of 6230 individuals.

It was found that 38.8 percent of those sampled had Immunoglobulin-Gamma (Ig-G) antibodies.

The data extrapolation shows 26 lakh people in Kashmir division may have been infected with SARS-CoV2 and have recovered.

If IgG levels are detected above the threshold (IgG 0.73 percent), it shows that a person had been infected by SARS-CoV2 at least 15 days ago and has recovered from it. This has resulted in antibodies for this viral infection.

Some recent studies have shown that people who survive a COVID-19 infection “continue to produce protective antibodies against key parts of the virus for at least three to four months after developing their first symptoms”.

This could mean people infected with the virus will have “some lasting antibody protection against re-infection, though for how long still remains to be determined”.

The study has been spearheaded by the Department of Community Medicine of GMC Srinagar. It shows that sero prevalence was more in central and northern part of Kashmir than southern districts. Pulwama district, which was part of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s pan-India sero-study has shown 43.1 percent people with antibodies. In August, the prevalence was nearly 30 percent in this district.

Budgam has 43 percent of its studied population with antibodies. The sero-prevalence in other districts was found to be 42.3 percent in Kupwara, Srinagar 40.7 percent, Bandipora 39.8 percent, Ganderbal 39 percent, Anantnag 35.2 percent, Baramulla 34.6 percent, Shopian 31.9 percent and Kulgam 28.5 percent.

The blood samples were collected over the first week of November across 10 districts of Kashmir division. Srinagar district, with the highest population and the highest reported cases, had 2418 samples analysed while 400 samples each were taken from other districts.

One out of every two people (52.1 percent) who had experienced influenza like illness (ILI) in the past two weeks had antibodies for COVID19.

Interestingly, 37.9 percent who had antibodies had experienced no symptoms of the viral illness at all. The presence of antibodies was slightly more (10 percent) in people who had a known contact with a COVID19 positive person. Among the people who had tested positive for COVID19, 20.5 percent had no detectable antibodies at all.

Head Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, GMC Srinagar, Prof S Saleem Khan said that though many people had started to believe that COVID19 threat was over, it was still taking lives.

“Nearly 100 people have lost lives due to the virus in Kashmir in the past fortnight,” he said adding that hundreds were in hospitals battling for life. “The pain and suffering to them and their families mandate that we follow guidelines – wear masks and maintain social distance.”

He said the study indicates that there had been widespread transmission of SARS CoV-2 infection in the general population.

“There were apprehensions that the majority of the unaffected population may also contract the COVID infection if SOPs aren’t followed. There seems complacency among the general population and very few people are now using face masks. The gatherings in public places also shows people are not adhering to social distancing norms,” he said.

The study was supported by JK National Health Mission in collaboration with SKIMS, SKIMS Medical College, Government Medical College Anantnag, Government Medical College Baramulla and Directorate of Health Services Kashmir.