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This article was published 2/6/2009 (4776 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NURSES handed out face masks on Tuesday as preparations for a pandemic kicked into high gear in St. Theresa Point First Nation over heightened concern a severe flu will continue to infect healthy children and adults.
The isolated fly-in community of 3,200 could be the first in Manitoba to be hit hard by a suspected swine flu outbreak, confirming the "worst fears" of First Nations leaders who warned impoverished aboriginal reserves are ill-equipped to deal with widespread infections.
Chief David McDougall confirmed Tuesday an additional five children were flown to Winnipeg Monday night, bringing the total number of St. Theresa Point residents hospitalized to 12. In the last week, two pregnant women were medevaced to intensive care along with five other children who fell ill with severe flu symptoms.
One woman lost her child as a result of the illness. McDougall said lab tests have confirmed a strain of influenza is circulating, but there's still no word on whether the virus is the human swine flu that's surfaced worldwide.
On Tuesday, many residents wore masks to protect themselves as community leaders shut the school and told workers to stay home to avoid getting sick.
"The infection is influenza A, but what exactly it is, it will take days of more testing before we ascertain what it is," McDougall said.
McDougall said the big concern is that overcrowded homes make it easy for flu viruses to spread from person to person and infect more people. Close to half of the 1,300 residents who visited the nursing station in May reported flu-like symptoms.
That's a sharp increase from the typical 800 visits made to the nursing station in a month, McDougall said.
A total of 41 residents were transported to Winnipeg last month, including at least 14 who reported a respiratory illness.
Health officials have flown in at least two additional nurses and two doctors to deal with the emerging respiratory crisis in the remote community, located 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Federal health officials did not respond to a request by the Free Press for an interview, but said in an email statement they are committed to protecting the health and well-being of First Nations populations.
"Health Canada is working closely with the community, Manitoba Health, Burntwood Regional Health Authority, the Public Health Agency of Canada and First Nations leadership to ensure support and information on the management of influenza is available to the community," the statement said.
To date, 11 Manitobans have tested positive for swine flu, including two Winnipeggers who have been hospitalized.
One man, a Manitoba Hydro employee in his 30s who works in Wuskwatim, remains in serious condition.
"He's in a delicate situation," said Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider.
Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans said St. Theresa Point is an example of what can happen when governments fail to address the poor social conditions that can help disease spread. Evans said the lack of health-care professionals and overcrowded homes make many communities prone to devastating effects of outbreaks, noting pandemic planning in many areas is still a work in progress.
"It gives you a good sense of how terrible and tragic will be when a community has to deal with an epidemic," Evans said. "No one expected H1N1 to surface at this time so the communities are caught off guard."