The Enigma of Low COVID-19 Fatality Rate in India

Front Genet. 2020 Jul 28;11:854. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2020.00854. eCollection 2020.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), an acute onset pneumonia caused by a novel Betacoronavirus Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has rapidly evolved into a pandemic. Though its origin has been linked to the Wuhan City of China's Hubei Province in December 2019, recent reports claim that the original animal-to-human transmission of the virus probably happened sometime between September and October 2019 in Guangdong Province, rather than Hubei. As of July 3, 2020, India has reported a case positivity rate of 6.5% and a fatality rate of 2.8%, which are among the lowest in the world. Also, the severity of the disease is much less among Indians as evidenced by the low rate of ICU admission (15.3%) and the need for mechanical ventilation (4.16%). As per the World Health Organization (WHO) situation report 165 on July 3, 2020, India has one of the lowest deaths per 100,000 population (1.32 deaths against a global average of 6.04). Several factors related to the pathogen, host and environment might have some role in reducing the susceptibility of Indians to COVID-19. These include some ongoing mutations that can alter the virulence of the circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains, host factors like innate immunity, genetic diversity in immune responses, epigenetic factors, genetic polymorphisms of ACE2 receptors, micro RNAs and universal BCG vaccination, and environmental factors like high temperature and humidity which may alter the viability and transmissibility of the strain. This perspective -highlights the potential factors that might be responsible for the observed low COVID-19 fatality rate in Indian population. It puts forward several hypotheses which can be a ground for future studies determining individual and population susceptibility to COVID-19 and thus, may offer a new dimension to our current understanding of the disease.

Keywords: COVID-19; Indian population; SARS-CoV-2; angiotensin converting enzyme 2; killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors; microRNA.