IT would appear to be variants of the virus, COVID-19 may have been in Guyana since December 2020, according to tests conducted by Eureka Medical Laboratories Inc. who found “abnormalities” in people who tested positive for COVID-19. Virology Laboratory Manager at Eureka, Paul Cheddie, explained to the Guyana Chronicle that the COVID-19 tests that this private organization has been offering include the identification of three genes or targets associated with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). These genes, he said, help enable the COVID variants to bind to human cells and thus enter and infect the cells. The controller highlighted, however, that the variants can be identified because they have one gene less (that is, they only have two genes).
“When we see a positive of two genes versus a positive of three genes, that’s how we probably know we may be looking at something that is a variation of what we’ve been doing identify before, “said Cheddi. Three newer variants of COVID-19 have been under the spotlight. One other transmissible variant was discovered after genomic sequencing was carried out in the United Kingdom, another variant was discovered in South Africa and a third more recently was discovered in Nigeria. Reports to date indicate that individuals present with the same symptoms of COVID-19 and have no increased chance of mortality. What this means is that when the sample collected by an individual tests positive for COVID-19 but the third gene is also found to be missing, it is likely that this person is infected with a variant (or different strain) of COVID- 19.
Cheddie further revealed that many of these “abnormalities” were discovered in December, and were usually recorded by people who had recently traveled outside Guyana. No new potential cases of the COVID-19 variants for the New Year have been recorded so far in the Eureka laboratory. For the ‘UK variant’, reports indicate that the missing gene – the S gene – has indeed ‘left out’. The Guardian in the UK reported that it is not unusual for some S genes to leak in a small number of positive samples. If a larger amount of samples (compared to the population) show the process of S-gene depletion, then, there would be far greater cause for concern. The emergence of this particular variant prompted several countries to ban all flights from the UK and other countries documenting cases with the variation. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) emphasized that the Caribbean region has a “very high” risk of importing this ‘UK variant’ and noted that four cases have already been confirmed in Jamaica.
‘PINPOINTING A DIFFERENCE’
Although Eureka can determine that the virus that someone is infected with is likely to be a variant of COVID-19, they cannot say definitively what it is. Nowhere in Guyana’s health system – public or private – currently has the ability to identify the variant. “Further identification or characterization of the variant would require us to make genomic sequencing that we are unable to do at present, mainly due to resource constraints,” said Cheddie, adding that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) can provide assistance in this regard. Cheddie further revealed that many of these “abnormalities” were discovered in December, and were usually recorded by people who had recently traveled outside Guyana. No new potential cases of the COVID-19 variants for the New Year have been recorded so far in the Eureka laboratory.
Eureka Labs has also begun to reduce the number of tests using the technology to test for all three genes (and thus, allowing for possible variants to be discovered) due to the limited size on the global market. Instead, they have been increasingly using a ‘two gene’ testing system, which still allows the entity to determine if someone is infected with COVID-19, but does not allow to determine if variant or not. . The Eureka manager also revealed that current Ministry of Health health guidelines do not mandate that private facilities that test for COVID-19 inform them of these possible causes of the fluctuations. All that is needed right now is the personal information of individuals who have tested positive so that contact can be isolated and tracked.
CONCERN FOR CHILDREN
The COVID-19 virus is known to have a disproportionate and severe effect on elderly people, and more so those with comorbidities. Global reports on the UK variant indicate, however, that it may affect children more than the ‘normal’ COVID-19 virus. As such, Cheddie said the potential of this variation to impact children is one that Guyana should be wary of. He emphasized that, as discussions on reopening schools intensified, greater consideration should be given to the protection of children returning to schools. He also emphasized that more people would appear to be interested in traveling abroad now as the number of individuals requesting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from Eureka has increased. He advised against traveling at this time. Eureka offers private testing for COVID-19 and on average tests 150 to 200 people a day.
Amid growing concerns about the impact this new strain will have on the Caribbean, a report by CARPHA stated: “… countries are encouraged to continue to maintain national regulations including limiting concentrations, observing physical measures of distance, as well as hand hygiene appropriate and use surface dressings where applicable. Country travel guidelines and entry requirements should continue to be enforced. ”On Wednesday, a representative of the Ministry of Health told this newspaper that the ministry has not made the decision to impose any additional restrictions at this time but confirmed that engagement with CARPHA is continuing.