PAHO Director urges readiness to detect cases of new coronavirus in the Americas

She also called for informing health workers on the virus and strengthening infection prevention and control measures in health facilities to prevent them from contracting acute respiratory diseases

Washington, DC, 24 January 2020 (PAHO)- Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne today 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,” Etienne said. “PAHO stands ready to support them because detecting cases early can prevent the spread of the disease.” She spoke at a PAHO briefing for ambassadors of the Americas to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington.

Through January 24, some 846 confirmed cases of infection by Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov) have been reported globally, including 830 cases from China. Of these, 177 cases were severe and 25 died. Of the confirmed cases, 80% were people over the age of 40 and 64% 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 2 cases of travelers from China, and other countries ruled out or is investigating suspicious cases. 

In Wuhan, China, 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.

The Director of PAHO said the organization has activated its incident management system, and that since the beginning of January it has shared information with ministries of health through the International Health Regulations channel and through its country representatives. She said PAHO will continue to update information on what countries can do to effectively respond to this new virus, about which there is still uncertainty.

On 22 and 23 January 2020, WHO Director-General 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). The Director of WHO decided not to declare a public health emergency at this time. However, he 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,” he said. “Having an imported case is not the same as having local or sustained transmission in a country,” he added.

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 Acuter Respiratory Syndrome): fever, cough, shortness of breath and pneumonia,” Ugarte said. He added that there is no specific treatment and no vaccine for the new coronavirus. 


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