Swine flu has started to circulate in First Nations communities in northern Ontario, with hundreds of people falling ill on the Sandy Lake First Nation reserve.
Chief Adam Fiddler said Sunday that an enhanced contingent of nurses and a doctor were distributing the antiviral drug Tamiflu to people who were ill.
“We do have a lot of sick people… 120 yesterday alone and they saw many last night and all day today,” Fiddler said by phone from the community.
He said people don’t seem to be suffering more severe disease than is seen during regular flu seasons. The challenge for the community is the fact that a lot of people are sick at the same time, which is why extra nurses and a doctor were flown in to help.
“So far I don’t see anything more severe than a bad case of influenza,” Fiddler said.
The community is located on Sandy Lake in northwestern Ontario, near the Manitoba border.
Fiddler said half of the kids attending the community’s school were out sick this week and a decision was taken to close the school.
Local authorities are urging people try to avoid exposure to those who are sick, but that’s easier said than done in the fly-in community of nearly 2,700 people.
“When … you’re in the city you may have two or three people and it’s easy to say: Stay home,” Fiddler said.
“But when you have three families living in one house, you’re all going to be in contact. And it’s more difficult to contain here in the community.”
Authorities have also asked people in Sandy Lake not to travel to other First Nations communities along the lake, Kee-Way-Win and Koochiching, so as not to spread the virus.
Sandy Lake First Nations is a community is Oji-Cree, a combination of Ojibwa and Cree. It is not far from St. Theresa Point, the Manitoba community that hit the news last week with seemingly a serious outbreak of swine flu.
More than two dozen people from St. Theresa Point have been flown to Winnipeg for treatment.
Fiddler said five or six people from Sandy Lake have also been evacuated for treatment, though none was suffering from life-threatening illness. His 11-year-old son was one of them. The boy, who has severe asthma, was flown out for care early last week, but has since returned home — as have most of the people who were flown out for treatment.
The new flu virus has probably been circulating in the community for a couple of weeks, Fiddler said, but was only confirmed through laboratory testing mid-way through last week.