PAHO Urges Region to Be Ready to Detect Cases of New Coronavirus; Caribbean Public Health Agency Monitoring Outbreak

PAHO Director Carissa Etienne (third from right) addressing a PAHO briefing.

WASHINGTON, United States, Tuesday January 28, 2020 – Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Carissa Etienne has urged countries in the Americas to be prepared to detect early, isolate and care for patients infected with the new coronavirus, in case of receiving travelers from countries where there is ongoing transmission of novel coronavirus cases.

“Health services need to be prepared because they will most likely be the entry point where cases of the new coronavirus will be detected, as has already happened with previous epidemics,” she said at a PAHO briefing for ambassadors of the Americas to the Organization of American States (OAS). “PAHO stands ready to support them because detecting cases early can prevent the spread of the disease.”

Up to the end of last week, 846 confirmed cases of infection by Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov) were reported globally, including 830 cases from China. Of these, 177 cases were severe and 25 died. Of the confirmed cases, 80 per cent were people over the age of 40 and 64 per cent were men.

Other cases have been reported in Thailand (4), Japan (2); Hong Kong (2), the Republic of Korea (2), Macau (2) and Singapore (1). In the Americas, the United States has confirmed two cases of travelers from China, and other countries ruled out or is investigating suspicious cases.

In Wuhan, China, where the latest outbreak is said to have orginiated, health workers were one of the affected groups, which has put health services under pressure. For this reason, Etienne stressed the importance of the awareness and training of health personnel in the region and promoting the use of infection prevention equipment to protect them from disease.

Last week, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened the Emergency Committee to advise him on whether the outbreak in China constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). He decided not to declare a public health emergency at this time, but said it is an emergency in China, and that the outbreak poses a high risk at the regional and global levels.

“The fact that WHO has not declared an emergency does not mean that we are not facing a major public health challenge,” said PAHO Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa. “With globalization and international travel, it’s not unexpected that countries in the region can receive people with the virus.”

The Director of PAHO’s Health Emergencies Department, Dr Ciro Ugarte, stressed that epidemiological surveillance for early detection of cases, as well as the management of patients with proper infection prevention and control measures to limit person-to-person transmission, can reduce secondary cases and prevent a spread of the disease.

“The nature of 2019-nCoV is very similar to influenza, and the symptoms are similar to those of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome): fever, cough, shortness of breath and pneumonia,” Ugarte said, adding that there is no specific treatment and no vaccine for the new coronavirus.

Meantime, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) says it is monitoring developments and working closely with its international health partners to respond to this health threat and provide timely advice and support to the preparedness activities of Caribbean Member States.

It said the National Disaster Management Offices across the region have been advised and are engaging in local readiness actions together with the Health Disaster Coordinators, Ministries of Health.

“CDEMA and the Regional Response Mechanism Partners will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates if the situation warrants,” it added.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. 

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

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