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Threat of an administrative cytokine storm building up in India

When human body encounters nCovid-19 virus, it mounts defense/attack at various levels. To start with, there are local reactions but as the virus moves up the threat-ladder, at the very top comes a systemic reaction from the immune system that is not only geared up to fight the virus as it is, but is also responding to the threat it will pose in future.

The real clincher in n Covid-19 (and many other viral diseases) is the threat perception of the immune system and not the toxicity of the virus itself, as in many cases, the virus is not the actual killer, the immune system is.

If the body immune system is healthy, one of the most crucial abilities it has is to get accurate feedback from the body about the level of threat posed by the virus and mount a response accordingly; but, if the immune system lacks ability to get and gauge the feedback, it may end up with what is called a cytokine storm, i.e., a killer over-reaction.

If we look at the way any administration responds to a pandemic, it too will follow the same pattern. If it is able to get and imbibe accurate feedback, it will have a measured response to the threat and will not over-react causing collateral damage. But, if it is not listening to the feedback, there is a great possibility that it too will throw itself into a fit of frenzy and over-react to lead itself to a self-induced devastation.

If we evaluate the administrative responses to the first wave of nCovid-19, we have to accept that the administration did a good job considering the information opacity that existed at that point. With an unknown virus with an unknow killer-pathology, even the “measured” response had to get extreme as it was impossible to gauge the level of threat at that point.

So, even if the guardian angel of Indian constitution and human rights must have winced a million times with the police lathis having unpleasant unions with underserving human posteriors in many cases, it was just like an immune system over-reaction that was unavoidable.

But what has followed the first round of administrative stronghanded tactics and what seems to be coming at us with the second wave is now getting worrisome.

Today, if I look around, most of the administrative measures are born from meeting rooms of the temples of administration instead of feedbacks from the ground.

From 1000 ? fine to people sitting alone in a car to night curfews that are devastating small businesses, it is abundantly clear that the administration is responding to its own notion of the threat level instead of listening to the feedbacks.

It may look innocuous at this point of time, more so has people have now resigned to their fates after understanding that they have no recourse available and have gone completely silent, but there is one more quality of cytokine storm that one needs to become aware of before thinking that it is just a matter of time before it is over and hence we should just grin and bear it.

If you are a nCovid-19 patient or have taken care of one, there is one really strange instruction you must have received and that is to not get complaisant even if there are no symptoms and become extremely vigilant on the 7th day onwards because that is when the cytokine storm is observed to hit.

Known as “second week crash”, it is a crisis that can come out of the blue and lead to a rapid decline and even death of a patient.

The reason why a phenomenon like cytokine storm can hit suddenly and powerfully is because it is a systemic phenomenon and hence does what is called cascading, i.e., self-feed itself exponentially to snowball into a collapse.

If we return to our administrative response that is now almost a theatre of the absurd to predict if it is heading for a cytokine storm or not, there is one key indicator that is worrying.

While cytokine storms are not predictable, one of the absolute requirements for them to appear is collapse of the feedback loop. When any system stops getting and listening to feedback from the ground and instead responds to the internal dynamics, the possibility of a cytokine storm increases.

As my own threat perception is also over-active, I don’t want to explore the metaphor any further, but I do hope that we can avoid an administrative cytokine storm.

It is possible to survive even a cytokine storm, especially if a nation is as massive as India, but if we extend the metaphor one level up and relate it with the post-covid life of a cytokine storm survivor, it draws out a very gloomy picture that I don’t want to explore in context of my beloved nation.

 

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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