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Nunavut disputes WHO's concerns about swine flu spike

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  • Nunavut disputes WHO's concerns about swine flu spike


    Nunavut disputes WHO's concerns about swine flu spike

    Nunavut's top health official is downplaying fears about the severity of swine flu there, especially after the World Health Organization stated concern about a spike in flu cases in the predominantly Inuit territory.

    But Nunavut chief medical officer Dr. Isaac Sobol disputed remarks made Tuesday by Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant director general, who cited a "disproportionate number of serious cases occurring" in Inuit communities in Canada.

    "That's very interesting to hear. I have no idea why he would've made that statement because it's not based on any evidence I'm aware of," Sobol told reporters on Tuesday.

    The organization's concerns came after Nunavut confirmed 28 new cases of H1N1 influenza Tuesday, more than doubling the total in the territory from 25 to 53.

    Severity same in North as elsewhere: Sobol

    Sobol added that referring to the flu situation as a pandemic can be misleading. The term pandemic does not take into account the severity of the illness, only its range, he said.

    Sobol maintained that the severity of illness in Canada's North is the same as that found in other jurisdictions across Canada.

    "In fact, if a pandemic were to be declared, it really doesn't mean anything different in terms of our approach to H1N1 flu virus in Nunavut," he said.

    A total six patients have been admitted to hospital with the H1N1 virus, but Sobol said they are all recovering.

    Health officials have said the marked rise in Nunavut swine flu cases is partly the result of heightened flu surveillance efforts, in place since Nunavut confirmed its first case on May 28.

    Health-care workers across the territory have been testing every patient with flu-like symptoms for the H1N1 virus.

    Still, Inuit can be at a higher risk for H1N1 infection, said Dr. Anna Banerji of St. Michael?s Hospital in Toronto, who has studied respiratory illness in Inuit children.

    "Part of it is the virus, but a lot of it is the environment or the circumstances these children are living within," Banerji said, adding that people are more at risk for infection when nutrition is poor and houses are overcrowded.

    Banerji said she's happy to hear that swine flu cases in Nunavut are not very serious to date.

    Yellowknife hospital copes with Nunavut cases

    Sobol said if the flu situation changes, he's confident his workers can handle it.

    H1N1 flu virus patients from Nunavut have put some pressure on operations at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, the closest hospital to patients in some central Arctic communities.

    Stanton CEO Kay Lewis said the facility is providing care to swine flu patients as planned, and has not hit maximum capacity.

    "Initially we had an influx of, sort of, three a day coming in," Lewis said.

    "It's certainly slowed down from that perspective, and at this point in time ? we only have three [babies] from there. So it's hard to predict just where it's going to go."

    One of the babies in hospital has the H1N1 virus, while doctors are awaiting test results done on the other two.

    Compared to Nunavut, the Northwest Territories has confirmed two cases of swine flu, while the Yukon has one.