According to a brief radio report, a tuberculosis outbreak struck the Cree and Inuit communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik in January.
However, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) will not release information about how many people were affected or when the TB outbreak first occurred.
The Nation contacted the CBHSSJB for information about the medical threat in early February but received only statements to the effect that the situation had been already handled and that the magazine should exercise prudence so that no one from these communities would be “stigmatized.”
According to Dr. Kianoush Dehghani of the Public Health department, who is a tuberculosis expert, there is currently no risk of the outbreak spreading.
Dehghani said that the CBHSSJB Public Health department and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS) have standard protocols for management of patients with TB and their contacts.
“Right now, all patients with evidence of active TB have been hospitalized and started on appropriate treatment, and their contacts have been assessed,” said Dehghani. “As such, the situation is under control. At the same time, the Public Health department and the local clinics are staying vigilant for detection and early management of any additional cases.”
Dehghani noted that TB outbreaks are more common in remote Indigenous communities than in other parts of Canada.
“Factors like history of large outbreaks of TB before the 1980s and the resultant large pool of people with latent TB infection (or sleeping TB), early termination of intensive TB control and prevention programs, and the socio-economic situation of people in these communities are potential determinants of TB in remote Indigenous regions,” Dehghani explained.
At the same time, she said that the rate of TB infections in Eeyou Istchee is roughly the same as elsewhere.
“On average, every two years, one or two people are found to have active TB in the region,” she said.
According to the CBHSSJB, the TB outbreak was addressed on local radio as a joint effort between the Nunavik Health Board and CBHSSJB. While the Nation was referred to the NRBHSS, and several attempts over the period of a month were made to contact them for any information on this effort or on the outbreak, there was no response at press time.
According to Health Canada, tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria spread through the air when someone with contagious TB coughs, sneezes, sings or talks. It mainly affects the lungs and airways but can also affect other parts of the body.
The CBHSSJB’s hesitation to share information about the outbreak is contrary to international health protocols. As well, Canadian government guidelines note that the high mobility of Indigenous people in Canada means that prompt and transparent public information efforts are crucial to controlling, treating and preventing TB.
A CBHSSJB representative tried to explain the reluctance to release information about this issue by saying that the board should not be the only source of information for the Nation.