The Ministry of Public Health’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) Dr Karen Gordon-Boyle says the country’s port health officials have been alerted and sensitised on how to spot “signs and symptoms” of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has killed 80 persons, so far, in China, and sickened thousands of others.
As a precaution, “any person experiencing fever or flu-like symptoms should visit the GPHC (Georgetown Public Hospital) or the nearest Regional Hospital,” Dr Gordon-Boyle said.
She says early this week training programmes targeting key staff including port health, immigration, and customs officers will be conducted by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO).
Dr. Gordon-Boyle says the Infection Control and Prevention Committee of the GPHC is ensuring that that hospital is ready to care for any infected person.
She says so far, a screening tool is used to gather detailed information on the onset and natural course of illnesses of persons suspected of having the coronavirus.
The 2019-nCoV is related to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The symptoms of the coronavirus are runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general sense of feeling unwell. Patients also can develop pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and, in severe cases, even death.
While the incubation period for affected persons is still not known, it is advised that patients be isolated from the healthy population for some 10 to 14 days.
In the event that a person shows up with the virus, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) are being asked to render support with the testing of samples, Dr Gordon-Boyle said.
Globally, there have been 440 confirmed cases of patients with pneumonia blamed on the new strain of 2019-nCoV. The authorities said that many of the patients are residents of Wuhan city in China, or visitors who recently went to that city where the virus originated.
Thailand and Japan have also confirmed at least one case among tourists who visited Wuhan. Sections of the US press have reported Sunday five confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV.
The outbreak of the virus has been linked to Wuhan South China Seafood City, also called the South China Seafood Wholesales Market and the Huanan Seafood Market. Chickens, bats, cats, marmots, and other wild animals are also available for sale in that market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak.
So far, the WHO has been counselling hospitals around the world on infection, prevention and control. However, the global body has “advised against travel or trade restrictions at this time based on available information,” a statement said.
Other international public health institutions such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), China CDC, and European CDC are working on the design and eventual distribution of diagnostic kits to other countries. “In any case, it is expected that a consensus test will potentially be available at least some weeks from now,” the release said.
CARPHA in a prepared statement said it “does not recommend at this time to conduct entrance screening (temperature screening) at ports of entry. Passengers would already have been screened when exiting the Wuhan area and upon arrival in the US,” the regional body said in a release.
“Member States are recommended to capture information on travel history using the Passenger Arrival Card or surveys, for all new arrivals. Arrivals that have recently travelled to China, especially to the Wuhan area, should be questioned for symptoms and advised to be vigilant for onset of those symptoms and to seek immediate medical attention at a public health facility. Passengers should be advised to seek medical care as soon as symptoms arise,” CARPHA said.