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First Nation declares state of emergency due to lung infection outbreak

Three recent deaths are 'very likely' due to blastomycosis, says chief
2021-11-22 Ramona Sutherland
Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland gives an update on the blastomycosis situation in the community.

Constance Lake First Nation is declaring a state of emergency due to the outbreak of a lung infection in the community.

Currently, at least nine people have tested positive for blastomycosis, according to Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland.

Three people recently died in the community. It’s not confirmed if it was due to the infection but it’s “very likely”, Sutherland said in an interview.

At least eight people have been transferred to hospitals in Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins. There are also three children who are at the children's hospital in Ottawa.

Blastomycosis is an infection caused by a fungus found in soil, wet wood or mould. The symptoms of the infection are feeling unwell, difficulty breathing, chills, fever and fatigue.

The chief said the community became concerned after receiving an email from the Hearst hospital’s CEO. The email said the hospital was receiving a concerning number of people from Constance Lake First Nation with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The fungus infection can be treated and Sutherland encourages anybody who has symptoms or is feeling unwell to go to the hospital and get tested.

She said she hopes by declaring a state of emergency, the community will receive help and resources from the government faster.

“We would like prayers and well wishes for our community to contain this so that people can get better. I hope everybody will stay safe,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can. The major players are coming to the community to help out.”

 Indigenous Services Canada is sending investigators to determine how the outbreak started. The investigation is likely to be held indoors and outdoors. Sutherland said at least 10 spots in the community will be investigated.

While help is on the way, it’s been delayed due to last night’s snowstorm, Sutherland said.

The Porcupine Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Matawa First Nations, Indigenous Services Canada, Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, Red Cross and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs have offered help, she added.

“It’s incredible to see all the people who are coming to help,” the chief said.

The schools in the community are closed. Grocery stores and a gas station have a limit of two people allowed inside at a time. The band administration office is closed as well as the clinic.

The community will not be locking down, Sutherland noted.

“We’re not sure where the source is, so locking down the community I don’t understand how it’s going to help,” Sutherland explained. She said she doesn’t know if it’s safe to go into the community and encouraged people to use their own judgment and take precautions.

Unfortunately, it takes at least four or five days for the testing results to come back, Sutherland said.

“In the meantime, we’re sitting unsure of what’s going on especially with the results being gone for so long,” she said praising the Hearst hospital for quickly admitting community members.

Everyone who gets tested for blastomycosis also gets tested for COVID-19. All COVID results came back negative, the chief said.

Timmins-Mushkegowuk MPP Guy Bourgoin said the hospital in Hearst shut down its O.R. to accommodate Constance Lake members. If they have symptoms, they’ll be admitted to the hospital. If their condition worsens, they’ll be sent via Ornge helicopter to hospitals outside of Hearst.

The blastomycosis isn’t very common among people or something that’s heard about very often, he said.

“It’s hard to know where it’s from, that’s why it’s important to send people to identify where it’s originated,” he said in an interview.


Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

About the Author: Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering diversity issues for TimminsToday. The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada
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