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Swine flu takes a huge jump in Nunavut

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  • Swine flu takes a huge jump in Nunavut

    June 12, 2009
    Swine flu takes a huge jump in Nunavut

    Nunavut has confirmed 53 cases, in Kivalliq and Kitikmeot, with more expected


    The number of swine flu cases continues to rise sharply in Nunavut, but the message from the Department of Health and Social Services remains the same. Don't worry - but wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when you cough.

    And stay home from work, school, church or any social function if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
    As of Tuesday, June 9, the health department was reporting 53 lab-confirmed cases of the virus, more properly known as H1N1, in the territory.

    That's a big jump from the four reported the previous week - and the numbers are expected to continue rising over the next couple of weeks, and then begin to decline.

    Chief medical officer of health Dr. Isaac Sobol and Health and Social Services Minister Tagak Curley field questions during a press conference on swine flu this week. As of June 9, Nunavut had 53 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, with numbers ­expected to continue rising.

    "All of these cases are in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions," Health Minister Tagak Curley said at a press conference on Tuesday.

    He added that "several communities in these regions are experiencing significant outbreaks of the flu," but once again, for the protection of patients' privacy, the department will not identify the communities.

    Nor were department officials able to tell Nunavummiut numbers of cases identified in individual communities.

    However, CBC radio broadcast interviews this week with Rankin Inlet residents who said family members had been sick with the H1N1 flu.

    The increased numbers of confirmed swine flu does not necessarily mean more people are getting sick, Curley said.

    "In fact, there are reports from some communities that the actual number of people experiencing the flu-like symptoms is decreasing as the virus has apparently peaked in these communities."

    "It's a moving target," said the territory's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Isaac Sobol. New results and numbers are coming in all the time from labs in Alberta.

    He said national health officials agree there is no point in trying to quarantine communities where there has been an outbreak, as the disease has already traveled too far and too fast for containment to be an option.

    At press-time, Sobol was able to report that only six of Nunavut's 53 cases had required hospital stays. The rest of the patients were "recovering at home," he said.
    No one in Nunavut has died from the disease.

    Sobol said that so far the H1N1 virus has not been more severe than the seasonal forms of flu that most people are familiar with

    Part of the reason for the sharp rise in number of confirmed cases is simply that the health department has begun doing lab tests on every person who comes to a health centre with flu-like symptoms. That means more are being identified.

    There is also a time lag between onset of the flu and lab confirmation of the diagnosis.

    Nasal swabs can take several days to reach the lab in Alberta from the more isolated communities, Sobol said. And there is at least a 48-hour turn-around time at the lab.

    He noted that health officials do not treat patients with H1N1 any differently than those with other forms of the flu. Treatment basically consists of bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids

    For that reason, by June 15 the health department will scale back from testing every apparent case of any kind of flu, to only testing every fifth case, which is standard procedure.

    Sobol said that Canada is now working with manufacturers to produce a vaccine specifically for the H1N1 virus, and that it should be ready in September.

    He urged all Nunavummiut to get a free flu vaccination in the fall, when they become available. Nunavut is one of only two jurisdictions in Canada to provide free, universal flu vaccinations.

    Later this week, Sobol disputed an assessment from a World Health Organization official who said Nunavut patients suffer from "serious" infections.

    Sobol said in a CBC radio interview that Nunavut patients suffer from mild infections and are all recovering.

    Canada's health minister, Leona Aglukkaq, said if Nunavut needs additional resources to deal with any outbreak, it could call on the federal government for help.

    "Of course it will impact our budget," said deputy minister Alex Campbell. The department will assess the extent in the fall.

    "There are certain demand-driven services that we have to provide to Nunavummiut," said Campbell, "and this is one of them that was not planned for this fiscal year."

    Newspaper of record for Nunavut, and the Nunavik territory of Quebec