Respiratory illnesses surge beyond pre-pandemic numbers in Nunavut 

There have been 493 RSV infections and 86 hospitalizations so far this year.

Ten people have died of COVID-19 in Nunavut in 2022. Photo: APTN file


Nunavut health officials say there has been a surge in respiratory illnesses across the territory this year.

Dr. Sean Watchel, the territory’s chief public health officer, says cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, along with the flu and COVID-19 have increased dramatically.

“That’s reflected across the country, that increase from opening up after the pandemic restrictions,” he said during a press conference Thursday.

Nunavut lifted all COVID-19 public health restrictions in April.

Before the pandemic, in 2018-19, there were 142 cases of RSV in Nunavut. That dropped to 58 cases in 2019-20 and just two in 2020-21.

Watchel said there have been 493 RSV infections and 86 hospitalizations so far this year.

On the rise

COVID-19 infections are also on the rise in the territory. Watchel said there were 269 cases and four hospitalizations in 2020, 598 cases and nine hospitalizations in 2021, and 3,155 known infections and 84 hospitalizations in 2022.

A total of 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been reported in the territory since 2020.

Watchel said flu cases in Nunavut this year have nearly tripled pre-pandemic levels. There were 212 cases in 2019, 145 in 2020, 13 in 2021, and 635 this year so far.

The rising number of respiratory illnesses in Nunavut reflects a nationwide trend as many hospitals and clinics across Canada have reported an increasing number of patients, particularly children.

Dr. Francois de Wet, territorial chief of staff for Nunavut’s Department of Health, said the increase in cases in Nunavut has put pressure on the territory’s medevac system.

Large uptick

“We’ve had a large uptick in the amount of medevacs that we’ve had over the last couple of months,” he said, adding all of the territory’s southern partners are currently accepting Nunavut patients.

“The big thing for us, as long as we have accepting providers and accepting facilities in the South, we are able to get those patients out.”

Coupled with the increase in infections, Nunavut is grappling with a shortage of health-care staff, leading to reduced and suspended health services across the territory.

The territory’s Department of Health said Thursday it is expecting health centres in Chesterfield Inlet, Clyde River and Kinngait to temporarily close in the coming weeks. Several other health centres have also faced closures this year due to staff shortages.

The department said it has developed contingency plans to allow for urgent health services in affected communities using a combination of virtual health, fly-in clinics and paramedic services. It said it is also “aggressively pursuing recruitment efforts.”

“From a staffing perspective, our system across Nunavut is fragile right now,” Health Minister John Main said. “And things are also fragile in the south and the word crisis is being used quite often.”

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