Flu blamed for 2 deaths on Man. First Nation

A strain of flu has killed one man and one woman on the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba.

A strain of flu has killed one man and one woman on the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba.

The H3N2 strain is spreading through the remote fly-in community, located on Island Lake about 610 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

One person died last week, and a second death was confirmed Thursday, said David Harper, a former chief of Garden Hill and current head of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the regional chiefs organization for First Nations in northern Manitoba.

"People are coughing up blood," said Harper. "Is that a common flu? Absolutely not."

He called on the federal and provincial governments to step in and help the community.

Garden Hill was one of the First Nations communities that struggled with an outbreak of swine flu, or H1N1 influenza A virus, in spring 2009.

Three people on the reserve died of H1N1, and another death is suspected to have been connected to the virus. Another 50 cases of the virus were confirmed in the Island Lake region.

Harper said he believes last year's and this year's flu deaths could have been prevented if the community had more medical staff.

There is only one doctor on the reserve to help thousands of people, he said.

"One doctor for 4,000 people is totally unacceptable," Harper said.

Currently, the community has an "illness system" rather than a "health system," he said.

He said the province should be working with federal health authorities to assist the Garden Hill First Nation, but politicians don't seem to be taking the matter seriously.

"We are alarmed at the information we received from the public health officials that this is no emergency," Harper said. "How many more deaths do we need before we call this an emergency? 

"When we make comparisons with H1N1, we had three confirmed deaths with H1N1 and one suspected, and here we are today, we have two deaths on a common flu."

Health Canada officials refused to discuss the situation and instead provided an email response from spokesperson Christelle Legault.

She said the agency had provided additional nursing resources to the First Nations in the affected area and that "those residents who are ill will have access to the care they need."

Garden Hill First Nation is about 610 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. ((Google Maps))


  • In a previous version of this story, David Harper was erroneously described as chief of the Garden Hill First Nation. In fact, Harper is a former chief of the First Nation and current grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. Dino Flett is the chief of the Garden Hill First Nation.
    Dec 03, 1970 2:25 AM CT

With files from The Canadian Press