Genetic Testing and The Dreaded Corona Virus

Over the past few weeks, news of the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus disease, has dominated all media channels. It’s everywhere –  in your news feed, in your inbox, on TV, and everyone around you is talking about it. So how informed are you about COVID-19? Can you be genetically susceptible to this? Can genetic testing help you in any manner? Thinking of a satisfactory answer? Not to worry! Keep reading to have a bird’s eye view of all notable information about the disease.

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Originating in Wuhan of the Hubei Province, SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was first detected in China during December 2019. The Chinese government took steps to immediately inform the WHO about the detection of the new virus and the related disease caused, namely CoronaVirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The spread of the disease is like the outbreak in 2002 for SARS and MERS in 2012. By January 21st, 2020, the first confirmed case of infection had happened in the US with around 12 cases by the end of January 2020. As of March 16th, 2020, 115 cases had been recorded in India. The cases primarily feature people who have had travel history including China. While the symptoms are similar to that of influenza and cold, swab tests can reveal if the virus is indeed the common cold or the SARS-CoV-2.

Swab tests? What is that? These tests involve taking samples of mucus from your nose or throat or of the sputum if you’re coughing it up. At times, blood can also be drawn to have a test done, but it is not always necessary. The genome sequence of the virus had been released by researchers in China by December 31st, 2019. Using this information, in the lab, technicians can look for genetic sequences matching that of the coronavirus. The results can then be declared positive or negative. So, what does this mean for you and should you opt for a genetic test?

First things first, as per the WHO, there are some common signs of being infected by the Coronavirus – respiratory problems (shortness or irregularity of breath), fever and cough. If the infection is severe, it can result in pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and even death. Now in the initial stages, it could be mistaken for common cold and if someone has a history of asthma, it could also be mistaken for that. Considering that the virus outbreak is still on the rise, it will be a good idea to get a test done as soon as possible. Test results can be delivered within as less as three hours. However, if one or more results even turn out to be negative, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of infection.

As of now, there has been no vaccine or confirmed treatment for the infection. Those who are clinically ill are often put on respirators to help them breathe. Common antiviral treatments are still being investigated. In the meantime, there are certain precautions that you can take in order to stay safe. Preventive measures include regular hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing and/or coughing and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs before consumption. It is advisable to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as sneezing and coughing. This new strain of the virus is zoonotic, meaning it spreads from animals to humans. So, if you can avoid non-vegetarian prepared food available outside, it would be much better.

Finally, some other questions that keep popping up. Should you cancel your travel plans? If they aren’t urgent or aren’t covering East Asia and Europe, you should be safe to proceed. For a more detailed account, refer to this link by the CDC. A more summarised map-wise view is available here. Can you order items online from China? Yes. This is a respiratory virus and cannot survive transit conditions internationally. Should you wear masks all the time? Based on where you live, your doctor and the health and welfare department can issue notices to follow certain practices. It would do you good to observe them. Can you be genetically susceptible? As of now, there have been no confirmed reports of that. The only practical measure is prevention.

Precaution and preemptive measures help in being better prepared not only for COVID-19 but for almost every other ailment. Genetic counselling and genetic testing help you be prepared for quite a few health conditions. To know more about them and how they can help, please visit