Young and infected: New Covid-19 patients as India battles huge surge, South Asia

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Mr. Ajay Singh Yadav only managed one last video call with Mr. Raj Karan before his close friend became the last of an alarming number of young Indians, including children, victim of the new Covid-19 wave sweeping the country.

Some doctors say the reason people under 45 are now vulnerable is because they go to work and eat more, but there is no definitive proof.

They might also be more prone to a new ‘double mutant’ variant found in 60% of samples from Maharashtra, the hardest-hit state.

Mr Karan, 38, was campaigning in the village elections when he fell ill. Mr. Yadav took him to hospital, but he also tested positive and was put in solitary confinement.

“I am devastated … I could only see it via a video call,” Yadav, 39, told Agence France-Presse in the northern town of Lucknow.

The country of 1.3 billion people has been hit by a new wave that has caused a million positive tests in one week and the authorities are shaken.

At the start of the year, India believed it had beaten the pandemic and had launched a mass vaccination campaign.

Face masks and social distancing have been cast aside and huge crowds have flocked to religious festivals and election rallies.

But in hospitals, doctors have started to warn of an increase in cases, including a new phenomenon – younger patients – for a disease generally seen as riskier for the elderly.

In a country where around 65% of the population is under 35, there are growing concerns about the impact on young people.

New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said 65% of new patients were under 45.

India’s medical research agency does not have a demographic breakdown of cases, but doctors in major cities have confirmed that more and more young patients are going to hospitals.

“We are also seeing children under 12 and 15 being admitted with symptoms in the second wave. Last year there were hardly any children,” said Dr Khusrav Bajan, consultant at the PD Hinduja National Hospital in Mumbai and Member of Maharashtra. Covid-19 Working Group.

In the state of Gujarat, pulmonologist Amit Dave said young people were suffering from “increased severity” of Covid-19 for their lungs, heart and kidneys.

A hospital in Gujarat has set up the state’s first pediatric coronavirus service.

States in India have reported a similar increase in the number of young patients.

In the south Bangalore data center, those under 40 accounted for 58% of infections in early April, up from 46% last year, data aggregator said.

Variants and vaccines

“I haven’t seen such an increase in cases over the past year as I have seen over the past week,” said Tanu Dogra, 28, a Delhi-based book publisher, bedridden in bed. for a week after testing positive in March. told AFP.

“Everyone on my timeline, on my WhatsApp, is frantically texting each other because they have all tested positive.”

In Brazil – which like the rest of the world recorded more severe cases and deaths among the elderly during the first wave – doctors are also seeing a higher prevalence of younger patients.

Experts say more data is needed to support anecdotal evidence in India, with genome sequencing of samples playing a key role.

“The sequencing will tell you about the mutant that emerges,” added virologist Shahid Jameel.

“But that doesn’t take away from all you should be doing – which is wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places.”

Authorities have imposed weekend closures and nighttime curfews to stem the spread of the virus.

But health professionals say India’s sluggish vaccination campaign – currently limited to those over 45 – should open up to everyone, too.

Their call was echoed by young Indians in Delhi, who told AFP they felt more exposed as they had to go to work, mostly as breadwinners for their families.

“At present, young people need more (vaccines) … I see every day that people in their thirties are hospitalized,” 25-year-old pharmacist Muzammil Ahmed told AFP.

With hospitals overwhelmed, specialists such as Dr Venkat Ramesh, an infectious disease consultant at Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, said the crisis was already “severe” and the worst was yet to come.

“When I talk to my colleagues in major metropolitan cities in India, they get many calls from patients trying to find a bed,” Dr Ramesh told AFP.

“I’m pretty scared for the next month or so. Considering the rapidity of the increase in cases, this is certainly worrying.”