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This article was published 3/8/2009 (4461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG – Remote Manitoba First Nations are worried a resurgence of severe H1N1 flu will hit before they're armed with the same arsenal of tools that helped a nearby Ontario reserve "stop flu in its tracks."
Two months after the first sick patients were medevaced from isolated Manitoba reserves such as St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill, chiefs say they are still in the dark about whether antiviral drugs like Tamiflu will be available should H1N1 resurface this fall.
St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief David McDougall said there are only 48 doses of Tamiflu in the community of 3,200. He said he doesn't know whether the provincial or federal governments plan to increase that supply.
"They told me they'd get back to me and I'm waiting and time is ticking," McDougall said Monday. "I don't want to panic anybody (but) at the same time I need to have some indication of what's going to happen."
Antiviral drugs can reduce the duration of flu symptoms and possibly prevent complications if they are taken with 48 hours of the first symptoms.
The drugs were not distributed to St. Theresa Point residents with flu symptoms when the virus first erupted in late May, as H1N1 spread quickly through the community 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. McDougall said hundreds of ill residents visited the nursing station and at least 12 were hospitalized in Winnipeg, including two pregnant women.
By comparison, McDougall said Sandy Lake First Nation -- across the Ontario border from his Island Lake region -- "stopped flu in its tracks" by administering Tamiflu from Ontario's stockpile to anyone with H1N1 symptoms.
Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Adam Fiddler said the day after the community declared an outbreak of H1N1, 500 doses of Tamiflu were flown in. Within three days, close to 1,800 doses were available for any of the 2,700 residents who exhibited symptoms.
Fiddler said no one had to be medevaced for hospitalization after the Tamiflu arrived. Health-care workers visited 300 high-risk residents every day to watch for symptoms.
Fiddler said the community will employ the same strategy if there is a second wave of H1N1.
Since most government staff were on holiday, Health Canada was unable to explain Monday why an Ontario First Nation in the midst of a flu outbreak this spring was apparently treated differently from affected Manitoba First Nations.
Manitoba's Garden Hill Chief David Harper is also frustrated over the lack of communication with health officials. The chief doesn't plan to wait for an answer either -- a corporate fundraiser will be held in August to raise money for essential pandemic supplies such as hand sanitizer and face masks.
"Manitoba is so slow for getting stuff done for our communities," Harper said. "I don't want to go through what we went through last time."
"They're telling us nothing," he said.
Health Canada, which is responsible for health services on First Nations, is providing antivirals from provincial stockpiles to treat cases on reserve.
Health Canada's Christelle Legault said in an email "adequate supplies of the antiviral Tamiflu have been shipped to affected communities and Health Canada continues to work closely with provinces and territories to help ensure that requirements for antivirals are met in a timely fashion."
The statement said Ottawa is in the process of supplying antivirals to other isolated First Nations communities that have not yet had outbreaks.
Manitoba Health officials were unavailable Monday.
Quarantine powers may be utilized
A resurgence of H1N1 flu anticipated this fall could test new provincial powers that include being able to place sick people under quarantine in their homes and shut down schools.
None of the powers has been used so far, but that could change if the country is hit with another wave of the flu, a Manitoba official said.
Manitoba's revamped Public Health Act came into effect in April, just as the H1N1 virus was emerging. When the bill was introduced in 2005, the chief public health officer said it was needed to stop disease from spreading "in the early stages of a pandemic."
"Schools might be closed down. That's one way of limiting it," said Dr. Bunmi Fatoye, Manitoba's acting chief public health officer. "We can't say until we see how the disease will play out in the fall."
-- The Canadian Press