Pandemic could hit most Nunavimmiut


KUUJJUAQ – Nunavik’s regional health board has a plan on how the region can cope during a pandemic – a worldwide outbreak of illness that could kill billions of people.

A summary of the plan, which was presented to the recent meeting of the Kativik Regional Government council, paints a grim picture of such a pandemic’s effect on Nunavik.

This pandemic could be a new virus like the deadly influenzas of the past or the emerging H5N1 bird flu virus strain.

For now, the H5N1 bird flu is only transmitted by direct contact with affected birds, but that could change.

According to the World Health Organization, if bird flu does spread to human beings, this virus has the potential to assume pandemic proportions, spreading around the world.

If this happens, one in three people in southern Quebec could fall ill or die, and more than seven in nine in Nunavik could be hit by the pandemic, which would sweep over the region in two waves.

A region-wide quarantine would be one way to limit the northward spread of a pandemic to Nunavik, health officials told the regional council. This lock-down would continue until the first wave of the illness ended, and a vaccine could be manufactured.

The first wave of illness would strike over two or three months; the second would follow in three to nine months.

Under this worst-case scenario, food destined for a quarantined Nunavik would be dropped off at airports and pilots would not go outside the aircraft, and patients needing special care would go to Chibougamou instead of Montreal.

The health board says the challenges in managing a pandemic in Nunavik include overcrowded houses that encourage a virus to spread more quickly, the young age of the population, its vulnerability to lung conditions and difficult access to specialized medical services.

The result?

A pandemic could sicken 3,850 to 7,700 Nunavimmiut. About half would require medical care and, of these, some would need to be hospitalized. From eight to 23 of the sick would die out of an expected 8,575 fatalities throughout Quebec.

With these numbers of gravely ill predicted, the health board wants collaboration from the KRG to organize emergency services in the communities because, as the health board’s interim executive director Gilles Boulet said, “if the houses don’t have water, we’re not going to go anywhere.”

The deadline for the submission of the health board’s pandemic influenza was July 31. This plan outlines plans to limit the spread, reduce sickness and death, ensure access to services and prevent disruption of society.

The plan is now being revised, according to feedback from the health department Quebec City.

And while a pandemic is, by its nature, impossible to predict, Nunavik’s regional health board says it wants to be prepared when, or if, one occurs. That’s why a working group to fine-tune a pandemic response will be the key, Boulet said, to keep Nunavik functioning during this kind of devastating health crisis.

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