The Executive Chairperson of Biocon shares some simple learnings of fighting the disease, adding that leveraging science is the only reliable way forward.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw Executive Chairperson of Biocon wearing a cream outfit She is looking to her left and smiling
Health Coronavirus Tuesday, September 01, 2020 - 14:34

My first symptoms were a mild feverish feeling late evening on August 16. I had similar symptoms in early June and had tested negative, so I just took a Crocin and thought that would take care of it.  The next morning though, I continued to feel feverish and my temperature was 99 F. That’s when I decided to test myself and my entire household, as I have my 89-year-old mother, a cancer survivor, and my 71-year-old husband, a cancer patient, to worry about. I immediately self-quarantined in a separate room and waited anxiously for the test results. At 5 pm, I was told that I tested positive but that everyone else at home, including my staff, tested negative. Mercifully, the virus spared my mom and my husband. I asked for the CT (Cycle Threshold) value to assess my viral load and when I saw it was 23, I felt the load was safe enough to be home quarantined under tele-supervision.

Dr Murli Mohan from Narayana Health, Bengaluru and Dr Shashank Joshi from Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai, were my key medical supervisors. I was put on a course of Favipiravir, azithromycin and paracetamol. Apart from this, I continued with my daily dose of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, baby aspirin and chyavanprash! Not to mention my twice a week 200 mg dose of HCQ. Day 2 & 3 were uneventful. I measured my oxygen saturation levels six times a day, which were all between 96-98% even after a brisk 6-minute walk. My temperature was normal but late evening on Day 3, I felt fluish and it extended to Day 4 & 5. No measurable temperature, but frequent bouts of sweating that suggested that my body was fighting the virus. I was also tracking my cytokine levels.

My cRP was normal at <0.5 throughout the infected period which indicated no inflammation. My D-Dimer and Ferritin levels were also within normal range. I also tracked my cytokine levels, especially IL-6, which were undetectable. By Day 6, I started feeling better. My rtPCR test on Day 10 was still positive but with a CT value of 33, suggesting a very low and non-infectious viral load generally attributed to dead virus shedding. I also tested my blood for antibodies and T-cells on Day 9. IgM was noticeably present but not IgG. My innate immune response based on Dendritic and NK cells was strong. A robust T cell activation was observed in my sample with a higher frequency of antigen specific T cells, effector T cells, Memory T cells and cytokine release on stimulation. I had basically developed T Cell immunity which could potentially protect me for a long period. On Day 12, my rtPCR test was positive with a CT value of 36 heralding the final leg of my COVID-19 saga.

My experience has been mild and uneventful. No loss of smell or taste and no drop in oxygen saturation. I recommend everyone with mild fluish symptoms to test and decide on hospitalisation or home quarantine based on viral load: CT values <20 with fever should not home isolate. Monitoring oxygen saturation several times a day is psychologically good for your virus fighting morale. I also recommend that you try and exercise or go for a short walk every day to keep fit. I did not experience any loss of appetite, and I suggest a diet of fruit, vegetables, lentils and cereal. Soups and salads were a daily feature in my meals. My constant companions were Netflix and Amazon Prime; avoid TV and social media as negative news is bad for fighting COVID-19.

My simple learnings:

1. Don’t panic on testing positive.

2. Make sure you assess your viral load based on CT value.

3. Mild symptoms with moderate viral load qualify for home isolation.

4. Monitor your oxygen saturation several times a day to ensure it doesn’t drop below 95%.

5. Make sure you are supervised by a doctor through a tele-health program.

6. Do yoga and walk as much as you can.

7. Your body will fight the virus in a week.

8. Doctors should not treat just the clinical symptoms but rather the cause of the symptoms. For example, if SpO2 reduces, just increasing oxygen flow is not the answer. Treating inflammation caused by cytokines is the answer.

9. Lack of early intervention in mitigating the inflammation and cytokine storm can cause post COVID-19 fatigue and respiratory ailments.

10. Finally, please test and present yourself as soon as you feel mild symptoms. Do not be in denial and wait for more severe symptoms. You have reduced your chances of a mild disease by doing so.

Leveraging science to manage the virus is the only reliable way forward. In June, I was half hoping that I contracted COVID-19 to overcome the paranoia and the suspense that has taken over our lives. I was also expecting the infection to be mild and short lived. My COVID-19 experience has matched these expectations and I hope that it allays fears about the virus.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is the Executive Chairperson of Biocon Limited. She is a recipient of the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards.

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