June 11, 2009 / 10:37 PM / 8 years ago

Canada probes flu's impact on aboriginal villages

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada is concerned about reports the H1N1 flu virus has caused more severe symptoms in some aboriginal communities than in the rest of the population, health officials said on Thursday.

But the officials said there is no evidence yet to support suggestions the virus’s impact varies between ethnic groups, and the illness continues to act like the regular seasonal flu that Canadians suffer annually.

“To make conclusions based on a couple of communities that this is somehow a disease that is worse in a particular ethnic group -- it’s much too early to make any of those kinds of conclusions or presumptions,” said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer.

At least two Indian reserves in the province of Manitoba have been hit unusually hard by outbreaks of the disease, according to media reports, although no deaths have been recorded.

The World Health Organization has also expressed concerns that the Inuit people in Canada’s Far North were also suffering disproportionately in the current outbreak.

Canadian health officials said additional medical resources are being sent to harder hit Native communities.

Canada has recorded 2,978 confirmed cases of the H1N1 swine flu, but health officials say only about 5 percent of those have required any hospitalization for treatment.

The rate of serious illnesses in aboriginal communities may end up being at the same as in the rest of the population, but that will not be known until more data is collected, Butler-Jones said.

Officials have speculated that other existing health problems suffered by residents of isolated and often poverty-stricken aboriginal communities may be contributing to a more severe impact from the flu.

Canada has had four death from the new H1N1 strain and all of the victims were suffering other health problems.

The WHO declared an influenza pandemic on Thursday, but Canadian officials said that will not mean any changes in the way they are addressing the disease, which they expect to flare up again in the fall when flu season resumes.

Butler-Jones speculates the continued spread of the current outbreak may be result of parts of the country suffering from spring weather that has been cooler and wetter than normal.

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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