CARPHA Implements Whole Genome Sequencing for Member States to Identify COVID-19 Variants
#TheCaribbean, November 5, 2021 – Whole genome sequencing (WGS) testing to detect COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) variants will be underway at the CARPHA Medical Microbiology Laboratory (CMML) from Monday 15th November 2021. The process will allow CMML to monitor COVID-19 and track specific mutations of COVID-19 that have been circulating in CARPHA Member States.
This new service will provide a turnaround time of 14 days after receipt of samples by CMML from Member States.
Each virus has its own genomic sequence, characterized by a unique “fingerprint”. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is the most comprehensive method for genetic disease testing and can detect nearly all types of disease-causing genetic variants.
“The whole genome sequencing process will allow the CMML to detect changes that may occur in the COVID-19 virus fingerprint over time and accelerate the delivery of results to Member States. A better understanding of the virus’s genetic makeup could save lives by informing public health and clinical management, as well as support the development of medicines and vaccines to combat the virus,” stated Dr. Lisa Indar, Director of Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control at CARPHA.
As a virus evolves, random changes or mutations occur. These changes can lead to the emergence of a new virus lineage, which is quite common. The genomic sequences of these new lineages will differ and are referred to as variations. Although many variants have little effect on the virus’s ability to propagate or cause disease, some changes can increase transmissibility, or allow the virus to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity.
As the regional reference laboratory, the CMML continues to conduct tests for suspected COVID-19 cases and provide timely reporting of laboratory results to its Member States. The CMML boasts a turnaround time of 48 hours for PCR test results for Member States.
Dr. St. John the Executive Director stated “CARPHA is pleased and very grateful that our International Development Partner the World Bank supported the expansion of the suite of services that we can offer our Member States in bolstering their fight against COVID-19.”
From December 2020 until present, CARPHA and the University of the West Indies (UWI) embarked on a joint project to determine the different lineages of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that circulate in the Caribbean. UWI will continue testing samples, and further communication with our Member States will determine how many samples they can accommodate.
The CMML has plans to expand the scope of its gene sequencing services to include laboratory surveillance of other types of viruses and diseases of public health concern.
CARPHA also announced its new service during the virtual 35th Caribbean Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Managers’ Meeting which took place from 3 – 5 November 2021. The meeting was hosted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
FBI and Bahamas looking into woman’s death
#TheBahamas, March 17, 2023 – The FBI is investigating a woman’s ‘suspicious’ death on a Carnival Cruise ship in February. The unnamed woman and her husband boarded the Carnival Sunshine on February 27th, for a trip to the Bahamas, but she was dead before they arrived in the port in The Bahamas.
The FBI said Carnival’s team had administered life saving measures when the woman was reported unresponsive, but they were unsuccessful. The body and the woman’s husband were released to the Bahamian authorities when the cruise arrived in the country.
In a statement shared with US media houses, Carnival Cruises claimed the death has been a natural one. The Nassau Guardian said a source told them the police findings had concurred with that assessment saying it was a “normal sudden death of a tourist who wasn’t feeling well.”
The FBI was waiting for the cruise and when it got back to South Carolina on March 4th, they immediately boarded and began to investigate the room based on ‘evidence of a crime.’ The FBI also searched the couple’s car.
No updates have been shared to contradict the currently established cause of death.
Why Sargassum Matters
#TheBahamas, March 17, 2023 – “If you don’t like it, go to another beach!” Is what Aaron John, an Education Officer from The Bahamas National Trust jokingly tells our news team about sargassum blooms; his quip, motivated by the necessity of nature when pit against the notion that there is a real threat when the stinky seaweed makes its annual appearance.
John can admit, he says, that Sargassum isn’t very pretty but life isn’t all about aesthetics and in this instance that ugly patch serves a purpose.
“We love our sandy beaches, but in order to keep them we need Sargassum. When storms come, they wash away all the sand off the beach but sargassum acts as a mulch to protect the sand from water erosion. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good but we need it.”
He said it also provides a habitat for small crustaceans, crabs, and insects that are all necessary to our ecosystem and islanders have found use for the weed.
“Historically, (in The Bahamas) we have been using sargassum as fertilizer, especially in the family Islands as far back as I know,” he said. “Birds don’t go on the beach unless there is Sargassum and what do they do? they feed – it’s beautiful.”
He encouraged residents to just leave it be if they came across it.
Sargassum isn’t harmful to humans, except for people with respiratory issues who may find the rotten egg smell triggers asthma. Despite this, it’s not advisable to walk through the weeds which may hide sharp rocks and bottles or vulnerable animals.
Experts say Sargassum blooms began to increase in size around 2011 and have continued to get bigger and bigger since. This year‘s bloom is around 5000 miles long and 300 miles wide and visible from space.
“I know it’s not a general outlook, but I would like to change the perspective on sargassum,” John said, pointing out The Bahamas National Trust is actively working to decrease alarm over the less worrisome events like sargassum as it raises the profile on the environmentally devastating.
Lease agreement approved for diaspora office
#TurksandCaicos, March 17, 2023 – The Turks and Caicos’ Bahamas Diaspora Office is moving closer and closer to opening day, following the Cabinet’s approval for the signing of a lease agreement.
The lease will be signed with FINCEN ltd in the Bahamas. Several weeks ago, Arlington Musgrove, Minister of Immigration confirmed to our news team that the location had been found and was being finalized; now a lease is approved at the Cabinet level.
The interest in the TCI from TC Bahamians was evident in the diaspora meetings held in early February. The two meetings held in Nassau and Grand Bahama were completely full and over-subscribed by hundreds.
It’s interest which the Government hopes will translate to real life population growth, bolstering the local population before the native population ‘goes extinct’.
The Opposition PDM is on the record with what it feels is a far more viable solution to a dwindling native population; seek out the country’s own citizens and bring them back home.
Cabinet did not state when the office will open.
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