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More hospitalisation predicted with new variant

by Marlon Madden
5 min read

Barbados and other Caribbean countries are being warned to be on the lookout for an increase in hospitalization once the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is detected in the region.

At the same time, Dr Cecilia Acuña, PAHO Advisor on Health Systems and Services, is issuing a stern warning to residents to stay away from taking certain drugs and treatment for the viral illness.

There have been growing concerns around the world in recent weeks that the Omicron variant was more transmissible and could be less susceptible to vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus.

Dr Acuña warned that governments in the region should now be carrying out assessments of their health systems to ensure they were prepared to deal with any possible rise in cases that will require hospitalization.

“A higher transmissibility increases the probability of a rapid rise in hospitalization and this is something we need to take into account,” warned Acuna.

“Whether or not Omicron is more severe in terms of being more aggressive, we will probably see more hospitalization just because of the higher transmissibility. So it is not true that if Omicron is more transmissible it means it is milder and it will lead to less hospitalization. We would like to actually dispel that as a myth. What we have seen is that a higher transmissibility translates into a higher probability of rise in hospitalization,” she explained.

She also warned that governments should be preparing their social systems to adequately deal with any potential fallout.

Acuña was addressing a PAHO webinar exploring the topic Variant of Concern, Delta to Omicron, Transmissibility, Severity, Impact of Social Mobility: What Will Drive Future Trends and Optimizing our Response.

Dr Acuna said in preparing their health systems, governments should ensure that hospitals have space “for those who will need hospitalization”, and that intervention at the community level coupled with leadership of the primary healthcare teams, are key to ensuring adequate care for mild and moderate cases “so they don’t have to go to the hospital”.

Pointing out that some countries were hospitalizing patients that “really did not need to be in the hospital”, she added that “the best way to reduce hospitalization is to vaccinate the at-risk and vulnerable population”.

“The people who are vaccinated really have a reduced risk of suffering from the severe version of this disease. So if you want to keep the hospitals available for the severe cases, vaccinate people, and vaccinate especially the at-risk and vulnerable population,” she stressed.

Adding that there were other lessons to be learned from the past several months, Dr Acuna said there was no need for purchasing of medicines “that might be or might not be useful for the disease”.

“Please do not rush to administer anti-parasitic medicines,” she pleaded.

Stating that some treatment including remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine were widely used despite strong evidence they had no benefit in treating the viral illness, she added “Our recommendation is please discontinue the use of these medicines.”

Dr Acuna noted that there was anecdotal evidence of people relying on herbal or natural treatment and while this was “not bad” people should seek professional medical help if their oxygen levels then begin to fall.

Dr Prabhjot Singh, PAHO Advisor for Health Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control, also recommended that countries carry out a risk-based assessment of their health system.

“We have to identify what our objective is. Is it to prevent deaths, is it to prevent cases, is it to prevent interaction? That objective should define and would define what is to be done,” he said.

He also pointed to the need for officials to forecast procurement and other needs for testing and the kind of testing.

Dr Singh also warned that as Barbados and other Caribbean countries relax some COVID-19 measures for specific periods during the holiday season, the non-pharmaceutical measures should remain in place.

“There have been the relaxation of public health and social measures in some of the countries especially around Christmas Eve and New Year’s [Eve], but what needs to be emphasised even with the relaxation is that masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing, and importantly ventilation, are very important as public health and social measures, along with vaccination of course, in dealing with the current situation, as well as in the future,” he said.

Dr Singh said based on current data, projections for Barbados was that by the end of February there would be an increase in the number of “sick patients” as well as hospitalization.

“Hospitalization would increase substantially almost across all countries and we are expecting that the ICU admissions would increase as the number of cases start rising,” he said.

“In the case of Barbados we are seeing about 1,000 medical consults per day would be happening by the end of February,” he added. (MM)

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