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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Going viral

BY Xavier Kataquapit Feb 13, 2020

I have had several bad flu bouts over the past few years – almost once a year for the past 10 years. Some of these respiratory issues were probably colds but most of them were flus due to viruses.

Often when I am sick, doctors prescribe an antibiotic because they believe I have also developed some bacterial infection. Some of my friends frequently experience strep throat and pneumonia these days and I have been stricken with these complications a couple of times.

Living up North you would think that it we would be more protected by our semi isolation from getting flus and colds. But with international air travel none of us are immune to picking up a virus or any kind of infection. There have been many severe epidemics and a few pandemics throughout history.

The Spanish Flu during the First World War killed my great-grandfather John Chookomolin. He and a group of young men from Attawapiskat had been recruited or coerced by an army officer and enlisted in the Canadian Forces in 1917, then travelled to southern Ontario for basic training. Soon after they went by ship to England and at some point my great-grandfather contracted the flu. He became very sick during the crossing and he lingered for a while in a medical field operation in England before passing away. I have visited his grave in Englefield Green, just outside of London. The Spanish Flu is the most notorious pandemic in history that killed 50 million people worldwide and it was known to have involved the H1N1 virus.

During the regular flu season in Canada each year more than 3,500 people die and more than 12,000 end up in the hospital. This demonstrates that the regular flu is one of the biggest killers in the country. Many of us get the annual flu vaccine but many do not. Although I think getting it is probably a good idea as it offers some protection, a lot of people don’t trust big pharma these days. It is understandable that people don’t trust drug companies and even our governments as a result of so many bad experiences.

Right now, there is a very dangerous new virus circulating around the world that originated in China. The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, also named 2019-nCoV, but has not yet called it a pandemic. As of the first week of February, close to 500 people have died of this virus and infected close to 25,000 people in China. The virus has now spread to different parts of the world including Canada and the United States.

The big problem with this virus is that it is expanding in an exponential manner. That is why a few cases a month ago has grown so quickly to infect and kill so many. The hope is that it will not be anywhere as serious as the Spanish Flu, but there is that danger because we live in a time where air travel transports hundreds of thousands of people all over the world every day. We do have a much better medical treatment and preventative system in most countries but there are many underdeveloped locations where that is not the case.

The best we can do right now is to stay home and avoid crowds, wash hands often, do not touch your face, eyes, ears or nose with your hands and stay away from anyone who appears to have a cold or flu. I know that many people are sick with the flu these days in Attawapiskat and other First Nations up the James Bay coast. Many of my people across the country don’t have the same degree of medical service that is offered in towns and cities to the south. Many also don’t have access to decent housing, affordable healthy diets or clean water – and that makes them more susceptible. Let’s hope this coronavirus calms down and disappears over the next little while or we will have a pandemic on our hands.

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.