Monday 24 February, 2020

Ministry of Health prepares for new strain of coronavirus

The World Health Organization reported on the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus 2019-nCov on January 9, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei Province China.

As of January 25, 2020, the WHO reported a total of 1320 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV. 1,297 cases were reported from China. Twenty- three confirmed cases have been reported outside of China in nine countries. Other countries reporting cases include Vietnam (2), Thailand (4), Japan (3), Federal Democratic of Nepal (1), Republic of Singapore (3), Australia (3), French Republic (3), United States of America (2) and the Republic of Korea (2). All cases outside of China had visited Wuhan City.

On January 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States of America confirmed their first imported case of 2019-nCoV. The individual had a history of visiting in Wuhan City and presented to a healthcare facility in his state after the onset of respiratory symptoms.

Coronaviruses 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-nCoV). The signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. In the severe cases of the diseases pneumonia may develop severe respiratory syndrome and death. This new strain has not been previously identified in humans. Presently there is limited information on the characterization of the behavior of the virus, the severity of infection and the levels of transmissibility.

Due to the novelty of this virus, the World Health Organization and other international partners continue to investigate and provide guidance to the regional community.

Although the risk level for the Caribbean sub-region is currently classified as low and the disease is at an early stage of the outbreak the Department of Health and Wellness is proceeding with the necessary vigilance and preparation to reduce the possible impact on our population.

The Department of Health and Wellness is presently updating existing Influenza Preparedness Plans. This includes but not limited to: the education and sensitization of health workers, non- health stakeholders and the general public; the enhancement of the Port Health Services; the active surveillance at high risk institutions (ports of entry, hotels); the prompt recognition strategies– high index of surveillance for travelers with recent history or visits to China and other affected countries; ensuring the isolation of ill cases in designated hospital isolation room/ward; establishing diagnostic capacity through the Caribbean Public Health Agency; facilitate contact tracing and quarantine of suspected cases; and the promotion of general hygiene measures and infection control for border agencies, health care personnel and the general public.

In the interim, the public is asked to continue practicing the standard recommendations to prevent the spread of infection. These include: regular hand washing with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizer where soap and water is not available; cover mouth and nose with disposable tissues or clothing when coughing and sneezing; avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing; seek medical attention and share your travel history with your health care provider if you have symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel.

For more information please contact the Office of the Chief Medical Officer or the Epidemiology Unit, at 468-5309/468-5317 respectively

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