The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is urging countries in the region to intensify their plans to prepare and respond to Covid-19, given the appearance of cases of the new coronavirus disease in the Americas.
The advisory comes as Brazil’s Ministry of Health confirmed the country’s first case of Covid-19, yesterday, February 26th. The patient is a 61-year old man who recently returned from travel to Italy, where an outbreak of the virus has been ongoing, since last week. Brazilian authorities reportedly are taking measures to prevent further spread of the disease including a careful investigation of all relevant information and following up with anyone who may have come in contact with the infected patient.
PAHO Director Dr Carissa F. Etienne reports that the region has been closely monitoring what has been happening in other parts of the world.
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that Covid-19 already has affected 81,109 people in 38 countries—78,191 of the cases are in China alone.
“For several weeks, countries in the Americas have been preparing for the possible importation of cases of COVID-19,” Dr Etienne said. “There are measures in place for detecting, diagnosing and caring for patients with disease.”
While pledging the organisation’s technical support to countries, Dr Etienne warns that in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, the impact on health services may be significant. The PAHO head points to the possibility that health services may become overwhelmed, including a high demand for specialized hospital services such as intensive care.
PAHO is advising countries to continue focussing on stopping transmission of the virus. However, it says countries can employ the same multi-sectoral protocols created to respond to influenza.
“Countries of the Americas have already been working on these areas since 2009 as part of their pandemic influenza plans,” Dr Etienne notes. “A multi-sectoral response to ensure strengthened surveillance, health service readiness, preventing spread, and maintaining essential services, are key interventions to slow transmission and save lives. PAHO stands ready to support countries in rolling out these plans.”
PAHO reiterates that Covid-19 is transmitted from person to person through droplets and in contact with contaminated surfaces. The disease is spread primarily by people who already show symptoms. Current information suggests that a single infected person can infect between 1 to 4 close contacts.
PAHO encourages everyone to adopt the following simple precautions to prevent respiratory illness, including Covid-19:
• Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizing gel.
• When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your flexed elbow or with a tissue; dispose of the tissue immediately and wash your hands.
• Avoid close contact with anyone who has coughing and fever.