Just hours after it was announced that the first case of the new variant of Covid-19 was detected in the United States, the Secretary of the Department of Health (DS), Lorenzo González Feliciano, announced that in early 2021 the agency will start efforts to build the first genomic surveillance system.
This system – which has been integrated into other countries this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic – will allow the agency to detect important variants of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus. The project would start in February.
Worldwide, more than 286 thousand genomes have been sequenced, which has made it possible to identify variants of interest —such as the most recent one detected in the United Kingdom— and raise alerts for a variant that appears to have a greater capacity for transmission. Among the Latin American countries that have genomic surveillance systems are Colombia, Chile and Peru.
“In the DS we keep incorporating tools that allow us to reinforce and optimize the health response, for the benefit of the Country. Our scientists are vigilant and active in the search for resources that improve our processes. We have focused on defeating the pandemic with prevention and obtaining the greatest amount of data to know the behavior of the virus. I am sure that this project will be key for the detection and control of Covid-19 on the Island ”, expressed González Feliciano.
The official explained that this project aims to sequence Covid-19 positive samples from travelers and special cases associated with outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths, in order to describe the variants in circulation and associate epidemiological patterns. Understand that the information obtained from this surveillance will aid in decision making.
For her part, the epidemiologist Fabiola Cruz – who will be leading the project with an estimated budget of $ 298,000 for a period of twelve months – highlighted that genomic surveillance is a tool that allows knowing the behavior of a virus in the population, using the description of the viral genome together with epidemiological variables that include demographic and clinical data.
“At a global level, this tool has been key to studying the behavior of the virus that causes Covid-19, providing enough data to identify important mutations that are circulating in countries and to decipher contagion patterns,” he reported.
Cruz added that “during the past months, in Puerto Rico we have managed to set up an epidemiological surveillance system for Covid-19 capable of collecting data on the profile of cases and their behavior. However, in order to bring surveillance to a level that allows the association of genetic variants of the virus to the behavior of the pandemic in Puerto Rico, it is necessary to implement a genomic surveillance system for the first time ”.
“The project considers a collaboration with experts from different areas to achieve the expansion of surveillance, at the same time that laboratory personnel from the Department of Health will be integrated for the required training. This will ensure an increase in the capacity of our health system to implement genomic surveillance, which can be applied to both Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, ”explained Cruz.
It should be noted that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had asked the laboratories to sequence positive Covid-19 samples and share the genetic information through the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (Gisaid) platform.
Dr. Jaime Claudio Villamil, honorary professor of Family Medicine at the Medical Sciences Campus (UPR-RCM) of the University of Puerto Rico, had broken down the changes detected after the new mutation was identified. In an interview with this medium, he indicated that a group of mutations with 17 changes or alterations in the genetic code of this new strain has been identified.
“You always expect one to two changes in the virus per month. The genetic material of these viruses does not have much protection against duplication errors and their way of being is that they will change a lot … There are 17 changes, but there are four of these changes that have to do with how the spike, the spike protein , it sticks to the socket or to the receptor of the human cell ”, expressed Claudio Villamil.
Two minors in intensive
As of yesterday, Puerto Rico had 131,361 cases – among confirmed, probable and suspected – and 1,484 deaths. There were also 450 hospitalized, of which 82 —including two minors— remained in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and 70 were connected to a ventilator. Precisely, yesterday the second minor in intensive care was reported.
Health spokeswoman Michelle de la Cruz confirmed yesterday to THE SPOKESMAN that it is a patient under 10 years of age, who is in stable condition. The second minor is a teenager. According to Health data, up to yesterday 6,200 confirmed positive cases had been reported in young people aged 10 to 19, and 4,048 cases in children under 10 years of age or younger.