… says Dr Ramsammy
By Vishani Ragobeer
THOUGH Guyana has not been able to ascertain whether the variants of concern for the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease COVID-19) have been imported, Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, explained that some mutated form of the virus is spreading locally and it is affecting younger people.
Over the past few months, three variants of concern of the novel coronavirus have emerged. These are the B.1.1.7 or the United Kingdom (UK) variant, the B.1.351 or the South Africa variant and the P1 or Brazil variant. If an individual has been infected with one of these variants that individual is still COVID-19 positive, but only after analysing the genetic sample, would scientists be able to state that a person has been infected with a variant of concern.
So far, Guyana has only been able to conduct genomic sequencing – a type of genetic analysis – on 10 COVID-positive samples, out of a total of nearly 12,000 positive cases. And, Dr. Ramsammy, during a recent interview with this newspaper, said that the number of positive cases documented illustrates the minimum number of times the virus has been transmitted from one person to the other, since the virus was first imported in March, 2020.
“Any virus transmitted so many times will have changes and so we don’t have to determine right now that we got this variant and that variant. We should know that; virology tells us that, because it is a virus and it is transmitted, it will change,” Dr. Ramsammy underscored, adding: “I don’t think people need to get hung up on whether it is a Brazilian variant, an American variant or what.”
Cognisant of the expected changes to the virus, Dr. Ramsammy cautioned that a mutated form of the virus has been adversely affecting younger people in Guyana over the past few weeks.
“Initially, the elder people that died were all people with comorbidities – they were diabetic, they had heart diseases, hypertension. Now you’re getting deaths among people with no previous history of comorbidities,” the Advisor said worriedly.
In addition to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases recorded daily, 34 deaths have been recorded for the month of April so far. Of those 34 deaths, six of those deaths were younger (aged less than 50 years) individuals.
On April 1, a 45-year-old female from Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) and a 26-year-old male from Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) died. On April 4, there were six deaths recorded in one day and a 28-year-old man from Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) was the youngest death that day.
Then, on April 5, a 44-year- old man from Region Three succumbed and a 41-year-old woman from Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) died on April 10. And, on April 13, a 45-year- old woman from Region 10 (Upper Demerara- Berbice) died after contracting the novel coronavirus.
A few months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention both indicated that older folks and later, older folks with pre-existing, underlying health conditions were more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill. Younger folks were, reportedly, more likely to be asymptomatic (infected with the virus, but not showing any symptoms) and they might also be “carriers”- spreading the disease to other, older folks.
In October, last year, the Guyana Chronicle reported that there was a concerning number of COVID-19 prevalence in younger folks with positive cases recorded consistently in young people between the ages of 20 to 39.
“The observation that the 20 to 39 age group has been affected in Guyana in a way that brings us extra concern is absolutely correct because across the world that is not usually the high-risk age group,” Head of Internal Medicine at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), Dr Mahendra Carpen, told the Guyana Chronicle in October.
Dr. Carpen reasoned that this points to the prevalence of underlying and perhaps even largely undetected health issues. These include non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancers, which, according to the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) accounted for about 70 per cent of deaths in Guyana.
On Friday, during his daily COVID-19 update, Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said, “Infection have always been higher in the younger population but when we review the data of the 11,000 or so cases that we’ve had of people who would’ve recovered, the 20 to 25 age group, we’ve had an excess of 1,500 infections; the 25 to 30, age group, we would’ve had more than 1,600 infections; and the 30 to 35 age group, that would’ve been about 1,200 infections.”
He reasoned that the prevalence of the disease among the younger population could be attributed to how active they are. Dr. Anthony, however, stressed that younger people are no longer just affected with the milder form of COVID-19, as before.
“Our challenge over the last couple of weeks is that we’ve seen a few cases where younger people are coming into the hospital and that we’ve started analysing those cases and we’ve also seen relatively younger persons – meaning 40 and so forth – who would’ve had some amount of comorbidities but they have come into the hospital and had the more severe form of COVID and then died from COVID,” the Minister lamented.
Given that this is a matter of concern, the Health Minister assured members of the public that the Ministry would be examining the data to see how the Ministry should respond to this “worrying trend”.
On Friday, the age limit for people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was reduced to all individuals 18 years and older. The Health Minister said that this was due to public clamour for the vaccines but also alluded that the concern of younger people becoming affected guided the rationale too.
In fact, while speaking about the “worrying trend”, he said, “There is a real practical reason why everyone who is 18 years and older should go and get your vaccine- that is to protect you from COVID and ensure that you don’t die from COVID.”
He also explained that for the country to achieve herd immunity, a large section of the adult population would have to be vaccinated. Herd immunity to COVID-19 will occur once about 80 per cent of the population is immune to the disease. And, vaccination is a way of ensuring immunisation.