COVID surges strain health systems in parts of South America

Surging COVID-19 cases in parts of South America are overwhelming some health systems, demanding a quick response, though infections continue to drop in other countries in the Americas region, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today.

In other global developments, Colombia, Cambodia, and several more countries in Africa received their first vaccine shipments though COVAX, a program led by the WHO and its partners that is designed to provide equitable access to vaccines, a key tool for driving down virus levels in all parts of the world.

Health systems struggle in Amazon basin

At a briefing today, Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, said the mixed picture of country situations in the Americas is a reminder of how deadly complacency can be. The region’s main hot spot is the northern Amazon basin, including Peru’s Amazonian state of Loretto, where intensive care unit (ICU) beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, and Colombia’s Amazonas state, which is reporting that country’s highest case levels.

In Brazil, the Amazon state of Acre is struggling with a surge of COVID-19, along with a dengue epidemic and flooding that has filled 94% of its ICU beds, putting the health system at risk for collapse. Etienne said other Brazilian states are also reporting high ICU occupancies.

Brazil yesterday reported nearly 1,700 deaths, it’s highest single-day fatality count, according to the New York Times. Also, in new preprint findings, researchers from Imperial College London and Brazilian collaborators who conducted a statistical analysis of genome data suggest that the P1 lineage that triggered the second large outbreak in Manaus has probably been circulating since November 2020 and spreading rapidly in Brazil. They estimate that P1 could be 1.4 to 2.2 times more transmissible than other SARS-CoV-2 lineages and that it may evade 25% to 61% of protective immunity from earlier viruses.

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