With a total number of 8,313,876 positive (reported) coronavirus cases in India, it is the second-most infected country globally. Unlike how the reports initially were, India is not far behind the US regarding the spread of the disease. Interestingly, India’s death toll is far less compared to other countries where COVID spread has been massive. Here, we will go through the studies that prove why are Indians more immune to coronavirus than other counties.
Indians more immune to coronavirus
India is the second most populated country where millions don’t have access to sanitation, clean water, eat unhygienic food, and breathe polluted air. According to research, these reasons make Indian susceptible to several non-communicable diseases that infect the lungs and heart. According to government reports, rising cases of diabetes and cancer happen due to such conditions. For example, only air pollution takes away the lives of more than a million in India every year.
According to WHO, clean water, hygienic condition, and sanitization are necessary to protect against COVID. A study done by WHO and children’s agency of UN, Unicef, found out that around three billion or around 40% of the world’s population is living in developing countries and lack necessary facilities like hand-washing. The reasons sparked concerns that COVID-19 would spread through most of these places and take the death toll to millions. India is one such country that can face such fatality.
Due to lack of necessary facilities, countries like India have more chances to spread infectious diseases, said Dr. Shekhar Mande, the director of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He also said that coronavirus’s spread was not expected to have catastrophic impacts in low-income or low-middle-income nations.
How are Indian stronger to withstand the blow of the coronavirus?
India itself has 1/6th of the world’s population and also 1/6th of total reported cases so far. However, it accounts for only 10% of the world’s death toll from the coronavirus. CFR or the case fatality rate in India is less than 2% – also one of the lowest in the world.
A few Indian scientists are researching on aspects like inadequate hygiene, unsanitary lifestyles, and lack of clean drinking water. They said that these living conditions might have saved Indians from coronavirus fatality. According to them, people from low income or low-middle income countries have been able to withstand severe infections as they are exposed to several pathogens from birth. Such circumstances make their immunity stronger against COVID-19.
Papers to back this study
In one paper, findings compared available data from 106 countries on 24 parameters, including demography, population, sanitation quality, disease prevalence, and more. The findings show that people from high-income countries died more of coronavirus than people from low-income countries.
The second paper studied the role of the microbiome that is present in our bodies in trillions. These include viruses, bacteria, single-celled archaea, and fungi. These help us digest food, protect against harmful bacteria, produce vitamins, and regulate the immune system. Bal Chander and Praveen Kumar from Dr. Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College studied data procured from 122 countries. These included 80 high income and middle-income nations. The reports show that death from coronavirus is lesser in places with a high population exposed to several microbes, especially the gram-negative bacteria. Such bacteria cause urinary tract infections, skin infections, blood infections, and pneumonia. However, these also help produce antiviral cytokine that are molecules that fight pathogens known as interferon. These help us protect against the COVID-19 as well.
Dr. Chander said that they have not considered the predictive possibilities in COVID-19 and balanced it out with the immunity level of different populations that have microbiome or are exposed to a microbial environment. According to scientists, the whole idea boils down to the level of hygiene.
The man who authored An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, Matt Richtell, said that people living in clean environments don’t have a trained immune system. People living in such areas miss out on training their immune systems to fight unhealthy living conditions. Moreover, the concept of this study is not new.
A paper published on hay fever in 1989 saw an interesting association between a child’s chances of having a hay fever allergy and the number of siblings he/she had. According to the hypothesis, it is easy to prevent infections during early childhood if transmitted from the unhygienic touch of an older sibling or prenatally from the mother when the older children infected her.
Contradictions to the study
Richell quoted one more paper by the World Allergy Organization that showed migration studies. People moving from poor to richer countries have higher chances of facing allergies and have auto-immunity.
An immunologist at the University of California, Davis, named Smita Iyer, said that the hygiene hypothesis in coronavirus is much related to antiviral immune responses. Going through extensive research will help understand how quickly people can adapt to the current virus invader, depending on how much people have responded well to other pathogens earlier.
According to scientists, such correlations don’t imply causation and should only be regarded as an observation. Moreover, unhygienic lifestyles are not a solution to handle future pandemics and should not be encouraged.
Krutika Kuppalli from the Medical University of South Carolina said that the research is based on several assumptions and is not proven. She is an assistant professor in infectious diseases and firmly states that this is only a hypothesis and not a fact. Moreover, epidemiologists also mention that countries like India have a high number of young populations. Thus, they are less susceptible to fatality compared to the elderly.
It is not clear if a high immune response to previous infections helps withstand coronavirus as well. There can be several other reasons that lead to analyzing if Indians are more immune to coronavirus or not. Prof Kuppalli said that there is still a lot to learn about COVID-19, as it has just been 10 months into the pandemic.