First Nation declares state of emergency, looks to trace source of blastomycosis

·2 min read

A First Nation in northern Ontario says it's working to trace the source of a fungus believed to be causing lung infections that have triggered a state of emergency in the community.

Constance Lake First Nation declared the state of emergency on Monday, saying several residents were thought to be sickened with blastomycosis. Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents First Nations across northern Ontario, said Tuesday that there had been "sudden deaths" from probable cases of blastomycosis in the community.

Constance Lake Chief Ramona Sutherland said in a video update that the community was working to find what was triggering the infections.

"We are working really hard to find the source of this problem, to contain it and limit its exposure, if not to get rid of it," she said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday, noting there are at least 11 different places in the community that have been identified for sampling.

"There's too many people getting sick from this, so it's got to be in our reserve somewhere, in our community somewhere, or maybe all these people, we should find out if they're all interconnected ... we need to find what the connection is."

Blastomycosis is a lung infection typically caused by a fungus that grows in moist soil, leaves and rotting wood, and is spread when a person breathes in small particles of the fungus into their lungs.

Symptoms can range from a mild cough that does not go away to serious breathing problems. Some people may not show any symptoms, while others may develop a long-term form of pneumonia.

Sutherland said the community, which is located near Hearst, Ont, is looking into evacuation plans as a precaution but isn't planning an evacuation just yet.

In the meantime, she said people will be tested for blastomycosis and encouraged community members to seek medical attention if they have any symptoms, including a cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, a sore back, fever or chills.

"Just please go and get yourself checked out," she said.

The grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations across northern Ontario, said his organization is "very concerned" with the situation in Constance Lake and called for the federal and provincial governments to help.

"We look to our federal and provincial Treaty partners to support Constance Lake with the resources they require to address this crisis including access to health care, testing, and mental health supports," Grand Chief Derek Fox said in a written statement.

Fox added that Nishnawbe Aski Nation appreciates the support and cooperation the community has received so far.

"We are hopeful that environmental testing will help the community understand and contain the problem as quickly as possible," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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