A rare infectious disease has been identified in the Onion Lake area.
A letter from the Medical Health Officer from Indigenous Services Canada sent to Onion Lake First Nation on Jan. 16 notified the Chief and Health Director that two cases of Diphtheria have been found in that area in the past month.
Diphtheria is typically very rare in Canada with less than five cases reported every year but is contagious.
It is a vaccine-preventable disease, but can be serious, especially for young children and elderly people if not treated.
The rare disease leads to breathing problems, heart failure, and paralysis and in some cases death.
Dr. Ibrahim Khan, Regional Medical Health Officer, said he sent the letter to promote vaccinations.
“We don’t see many of these cases around. It’s very rare to see, but in the province, we do see a few cases every year. In this area, we had not seen before because this community is so great in terms of immunization,” he said.
“Onion Lake is one of the best community in terms of the immunization coverage rate, but you know people get exposed you to so many other reasons.”
The target is for 97 per cent of the population to be immunized to prevent further infections within the community.
Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae and causes a thick covering in the back of the throat.
The initial symptoms include sore throat, and fever and chills, and difficulty breathing.
The illness can progress quickly and cause thick mucous to be produced and swelling that blocks your airway. This makes breathing and swallowing difficult. In some cases, it can also lead to temporary muscle paralysis (meaning you cannot move your muscles).
When this happens the illness can lead to suffocation or even death.
Diphtheria can also cause infections on the skin that show up as rashes or ulcers.
“If you are not adequately immunized and if you have this infection, it can spread very quickly. So, in those situations, public health plays a big role to first of all – alert people and make them aware that if you’re not up to date, go to nurse and bring yourself up to date,” said Dr. Khan.
Chronic lesions that are not healing should also be looked at as potential carriers of the disease, said Dr. Khan.
The disease is often spread from coughing or from hands, so washing your hands regularly is recommended.
“Our nurses on the ground are the best ones in Onion Lake and they are aware of it and they’re taking every step to reach out to those families and educate them, bring them up to date on the immunization, give them supply even if they need. The homecare nurses carry supplies too. But the community is really great in terms of access and supply,” he said.
“There are parents and families here and there in Saskatchewan that would say something against vaccines. And we need to work with them to educate them to get them to signs, to give them the really concrete facts and evidence of the benefits and the effectiveness of these vaccines. You don’t see measles, you don’t see diphtheria, you don’t see whooping cough and TB and all these things because medicine has advanced in terms of diagnosis.”