North

Nunavut leads Canada in childhood respiratory illness: pediatrician

Nunavut has a higher rate of young children being admitted to hospital for respiratory illness than the rest of Canada, says a pediatrician with the Qikitani General Hospital.

Many must spend time in intensive care, costing governments millions

Social determinants of health, such as overcrowding and poverty contribute to the higher rate of hospitalization for respiratory illness in Nunavut. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Nunavut has a higher rate of young children being admitted to hospital for respiratory illness than the rest of Canada, says an Iqaluit pediatrician.

Dr. Amber Miners, the pediatrician at the Qikiqtani General Hospital, says many cases are related to viruses such as the common cold or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which means they can't be treated with antibiotics.

Nunavut also has more children staying in intensive care or being intubated because of such illnesses, Miners said.

"So sometimes if you need oxygen, it's giving oxygen," Miners told CBC News. "Sometimes it's suctioning out the gunk that's in there so they can breathe easier [or] giving them medicine through the [oxygen] mask — not antibiotic medicine, but medicine that opens up the airways and helps them breathe easier."

In 2014, almost half of the 60 pediatric medevacs to Ottawa from Iqaluit were linked to respiratory illness, and 70 per cent of those children were younger than six weeks old.

In 2013, a study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health said Inuit children’s hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses such as RSV, pneumonia or bronchitis are costing Northern governments millions of dollars.

"I think a lot of it comes down to access to healthy foods, social determinants of health, housing, overcrowding, poverty, those sorts of things overlay all of health in general," said Miners.  

"We do have a high rate of smoking in Nunavut that definitely affects the lungs, both prenatally and postnatally."

In the Northwest Territories, fewer than four per cent of Inuit babies are hospitalized because of a lower respiratory tract infection, while in Nunavut it's almost 25 per cent and, in Nunavik, almost 50 per cent.

The Kitikmeot region had Nunavut’s highest rate, with almost 40 per cent of babies admitted to the hospital.

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