The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging countries in the Americas to intensify their surveillance, outbreak investigation, and contact tracing activities, following confirmation that three new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—which are raising concerns about possible heightened spread and severity of COVID-19—have been detected in 14 countries in the Americas.
The call was made in PAHO’s latest Epidemiological Update.
“Mutations are an expected part of the spread of any virus,” said PAHO Incident Manager Sylvain Aldighieri. “That’s why we’re asking national and local authorities to continue to strengthen existing disease control activities, including monitoring COVID-19 closely. We need epidemiological surveillance, including expanding regional genomics surveillance, outbreak investigation, and contact tracing. Where appropriate, we need to adjust public health and social measures to reduce transmission.”
The PAHO update notes: “It has recently been documented that people infected with the VOC 202012/01 variant have a higher risk of death than people infected with other variants. Preliminary studies suggest that the 501Y.V2 variant is associated with a higher viral load, which could suggest a potential for greater transmissibility.”
Referring to the two variants detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, Aldighieri said that so far, they do not appear to have generated community transmission in the region of the Americas. So far, cases appear to be limited to people traveling from the two countries or connected to people traveling from those countries.
The third variant, detected in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, is most prevalent locally and researchers have recently suggested a causal link with the increase observed during the last weeks in hospitalization in Manaus.
“But it’s still early to conclude on the strength of the association between the emergence of the variant and the recent dynamics of transmission,” Aldighieri said.
PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne reported during a recent press briefing that the infected with COVID-19 in 56 countries and territories within the Americas reached 44,197,482. She expressed particular concern that the number of deaths in the Americas due to the disease hit a grim milestone this week—1,015,534 deaths by January 26th.
“The loss of one million people from this virus should serve as an urgent call that we must do more to protect ourselves and each other from getting sick,” Dr Etienne said. “This includes strong calls to action to reinforce the public health measures that are needed now in each of the places that are seeing outbreaks.”