New Delhi: Few days after Pune surpassed Mumbai to become the country’s top Coronavirus hotspot with more than 1.3 lakh COVID-19 cases, it has emerged that over 50 per cent of Puneites who were surveyed in the first sero-survey, ‘Epidemiological and Serological Surveillance of COVID-19 in Pune City’, have developed antibodies against the SARS-CoV2 or COVID-19, officials said on Tuesday (August 18). The sero-survey was carried out in five of the city’s 41 wards and a total of 1,664 individuals were tested to see if they have contracted COVID-19 or not. Of the 1,664 individuals, more than half of the people were tested positive highlighting the fact that the virus has spread in the city at a higher rate. The participants were aged 18 and above and were chosen from wards where the infection was reportedly high.
Explaining the findings of sero-survey and why it is done, Pune divisional commissioner Saurabh Rao told NDTV,
Sero-survey is basically a random sampling done in a group of individuals to check the spread of coronavirus in a community. We collect the blood serum of a group of individuals and see if antibodies are present in the blood or not, if it is there, then it means the human body had contracted COVID-19 in the past and now has antibodies to fight against the virus. This way, the sero-survey helps to assess the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in one community.
The principal investigators of the survey Aarti Nagarkar of Savitribai Phule Pune University and Aurnab Ghose of Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER), Pune adds,
The survey was conducted in five highly-COVID-19 affected areas of Pune city – Lohiyanagar (Kasewadi) in Bhavani peth, Navi peth (Parvati), Yerawada, Rasta peth and Kasba peth (Somwar peth). According to the overall survey findings it indicates that there has been an extensive spread of infection in the 5 wards, with the seroprevalence ranging from 36.1 per cent to 65.4 per cent.
Sharing details about the other findings OF from the survey, Mr Ghose added,
The study highlights the same trend as seen in other sero-surveys that the seropositivity is high among those living in slums or tenements. In Pune’s survey, it is observed the seri-positivity is 56-62 per cent for people living in slums or tenements, and 43.9 per cent for bungalow residents, and 33 per cent for those staying in buildings. The findings also show that the prevalence is lower among those who have access to independent toilets compared to those who share toilets.
Of the five sampled areas (wards), Lohiyanagar (Kasewadi) in Bhavani peth accounted for the highest 65.4 per cent of seropositivity. Navi peth (Parvati) accounted for 56.7 per cent; Yerawada 56.6 per cent, Rasta peth 45.7 per cent while Kasba peth (Somwar peth) stood at 36.1 per cent.
Saurabh Rao further added that the survey is not a comprehensive one and two more sero surveys will be conducted with a larger sample size but the first one does show that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the city is extensive.
The survey found that there is ‘No’ difference in seropositivity between men and women and showed that prevalence of COVID-19 was lower in the older people above 66+ years of age but was similar across age groups below 66. Talking about the gender and age-wise findings of the Sero-survey, Mr Ghose said,
52.8 per cent men and 50.1 per cent of women surveyed were found to have seroprevalence of antibodies in Pune, whereas, in people aged between 51-65 years, 54.8 per cent were detected with antibodies while 39.8 per cent people aged above 66 years had antibodies, as per the report. It should also be noted that over the past few months what we have learned about coronavirus disease itself IS that it doesn’t affect a particular age group or gender as such, and that is what our trends in the report also shows.
What The Sero-Survey Results Means For Pune City?
An official in-charge of Sero-Survey findings from Pune Municipal Corporation adds,
If you compare the other sero-surveys that happened in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, we can say, Pune’s survey reported a very high prevalence of the antibodies, higher than any of the other surveys. However, we should also keep in mind that the survey in Pune took place in July and August when India’s COVID-19 cases were at its peak. But one thing, which is clear from all the sero-survey findings is that the prevalence of the infection is high in poverty-struck areas or where there are lack of infrastructural facilities like individual toilets. However, in Pune’s case, the spread was also high for people living in bungalows at 43.9 per cent, which shows the high spread of the infection.
According to the data studied, COVID-19 is spreading quickly and widely in the city as the cases are on a continuous rise. As of August 16, the city reported nearly 3,200 new COVID cases, taking the city to beat Mumbai, which was earlier known as the worst-hit city in Maharashtra with highest COVID cases. But on the other hand, according to Divisional Commissioner Saurabh Rao, the positive news is that the fatality rate is low in Pune and stands at 2.30 per cent, whereas recovery rate stands at 74.88 per cent.
Does The Result Shows Pune Could Be Reaching Herd Immunity?
The researchers have cautioned that while sero tests suggest past infection, the presence of antibodies does not necessarily indicate resistance to subsequent infection. In a press briefing held on August 18 by World Health Organisation, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said,
Normally, when we talk about herd immunity, we talk about using the vaccine as well, it means, we still need to think of how many people we need to vaccinate in terms of achieving the herd immunity so that the other half is safe and it depends on the country to country, based on its population. WHO is part of many sero-studies being done in 50 countries across the world, most of the studies that have been done so far tell us that less than 10 per cent of the population has SARS antibodies in them, it also shows that still, a large population remains susceptible to the virus, which means that coronavirus can still spread across the regions and that is why we still emphasise so much that people, in general, should take precautions and let the infection not spread.
Public health experts and doctors say while sero-surveys test for antibodies against the virus in the general population, indicating viral spread and immune response to it, the nature and duration of protection these antibodies give is not tested. So, one does not know if these antibodies have neutralising effect on SARS-Cov2 virus and for how long will the immune response last. Also, it doesn’t indicate how protective these antibodies are and for how long. Hence a direct link of seropositivity with herd immunity may not be correct.
The first round of sero-surveys done in other cities showed 23 per cent people had antibodies in Delhi, while in Mumbai, at least 57 per cent people had antibodies in slum areas and 16 per cent in non-slum areas, while in Ahmedabad, it was 47 per cent. Stressing on the importance of the sero-surveys, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said, the surveys help to understand the proportion of the population exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection including asymptomatic individuals. Depending upon the level of sero-prevalence of infection, appropriate public health interventions can be planned and implemented for prevention and control of the disease.
Pune’s sero-survey was initiated from July 20 to August 5, by the civic body – Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in collaboration with Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad and Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore. The survey studied a sample of 1,664 respondents (all above 18 years) from the city’s 35 lakh residents to know the spread of the virus in the city.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.