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10% of residents in Nunavut community infected with TB, crisis team to visit

With 10 per cent of residents in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, infected with active or latent tuberculosis, the Government of Nunavut is looking for new ways to combat the disease.

Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, has the highest tuberculosis infection rate in the territory

The hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq, population 600, has the highest TB rate in the territory. Nunavut's chief medical officer says she's worried about infection rates in 15 to 17 of the territory's 25 communities. (Nick Murray/CBC)

With 10 per cent of residents in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, infected with active or latent tuberculosis, the Government of Nunavut is looking for new ways to combat the disease.  

While the community of 600 has the highest rate in the territory, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health says she's also worried about infection rates in 15 to 17 of the territory's 25 communities.

Kim Barker said the Health Department is putting together a response team that will visit the community in January — something it hasn't done before.

Kim Barker, Nunavut's chief medical officer of health, says the Health Department is putting together a response team to visit Qikiqtarjuaq in January — something it hasn’t done before. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"We are still in the planning stages, but the intention is to mobilize additional staff to assist the health centre that are already managing day to day activities let alone trying to address the TB issue there," Barker said.

Qikiqtarjuaq entered the spotlight after 15-year-old Ileen Kooneeliusie died from a rare form of tuberculosis last January, just hours after she was diagnosed. 

That death helped drive the creation of a national task force this fall to address a TB rate among Inuit that, in 2015, was 270 times higher than the rate among Canadian-born, non-Indigenous people.

Ileen Kooneeliusie died last January of a rare form of TB. She loved to draw, played violin and enjoyed dance club, her family said. (Geela Kooneeliusie and Matthew Kilabuk)

Mayor welcomes help

Barker says the team has been in close communication with the community's mayor, Mary Killiktee, to organize the new approach.

Kiliktee says she glad the team is coming.

Qikiqtarjuaq Mayor Mary Killiktee is glad the team is coming. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

"It's welcome news for families. It's good to know that they'll be asking questions, going door-to-door," Kiliktee said in Inuktitut.

As for why Qikiqtarjuaq has the highest rate, Barker says its something the team will look into. From what she knows now, she says overcrowded homes play a significant role.

The community re-jigged their annual Christmas games to account for the infection. Games were held in the larger, better ventilated, community hall or outdoors.

Barker says territory-wide, those with coughs should stay home to avoid infecting others. She says the same for those on tuberculosis medication, who have not yet tested negative for the disease.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn, Kowisa Arlooktoo

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