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Pandemic 2009 Following Route
Of 1918 Pandemic

From Patricia Doyle, PhD
Hello Jeff -- The Swine Flu may have hit one of the islands off the coast of Alaska. It has already been confirmed in mainland Alaska. Now it looks like it hit a traditional Eskimo whaling village of 130 people on the remote island of Diomede.   
If you remember, in 1918 the Eskimo communities in Alaska and on its coastal islands were decimated by the 1918 flu.
Date: Sat 7 Nov 2009 Source: Associated Press report (edited)
Alaskan Island Village Hit By Suspected Swine Flu
By Rachel D'Oro
Suspected swine flu [influenza pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection] is sweeping a traditional Eskimo whaling village on a remote Alaskan island -- prompting an urgent medical mission to deliver help. "Diomede is probably the most isolated place in the United States right now," said David Head, a doctor involved in the effort. "We thought it would be better to go out there and just vaccinate people."
So many of the 130 residents of Diomede have been stricken with flu-like symptoms that the Alaska Army National Guard stepped in with a Black Hawk helicopter to transport a medical team from Nome 135 miles away, where Head is chief of staff at Norton Sound Health Corp.
Diomede, located less than 3 miles from Russia's Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, is all the more isolated because passenger air service was halted 4 months ago when the sole helicopter used for that purpose was sidelined for repairs. "There's no way people can get out of here," said 73 year old Patrick Omiak Sr, the village tribal council president. "For emergencies, I'm real glad about the National Guard." A different helicopter still delivers mail and goods, but for liability reasons cannot carry passengers.
He was among the many in the village to get the flu vaccinations that were delivered by a doctor and public health nurse who arrived Thursday [5 Nov 2009] from Nome. The medical team also brought enough medicine such as Tamiflu [oseltamivir] to treat every resident if necessary.
Omiak has not gotten sick but said many in community are fighting symptoms including runny noses and bad coughs. "Some kind of a virus is going around on this little island," he said. The illness is just the latest hardship for the residents of the rocky island, which covers only 2 square miles of treeless terrain. Most residents, whose homes have no running water, are Ingalikmiut Eskimos who depend on subsistence foods, hunting bowhead whale, walrus, and seal along with fish and crab.
Medics aren't saying how many in the village have taken ill, but they note it's a significant enough portion of the population to warrant the emergency response. 3 sick people, including a small child, also have been flown out of the village for treatment. At least one person has tested positive for swine flu [pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection] in a preliminary analysis.
The National Guard will continue to help with emergencies until the regular helicopter service is restored, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Randy Ruaro, deputy chief of staff for Governor Sean Parnell, said state police and the coast guard are also ready to help until the repairs are completed, hopefully by December. Meanwhile, he said a plan to use the single-engine chopper to transport patients is under discussion. "I think everyone is working to try and reach the best solution," he said.
-- Communicated by ProMED-mail rapporteur Mary Marshall
Little Diomede Island, Alaska, sits just over 2 miles to the east of Big Diomede Island, Russia. The islands are separated not only by national affiliation, but also by the International Dateline, which runs through the small stretch of Bering Sea between the island group. Little Diomede is flat-topped, steep-sided and very isolated by its location, by rough seas, and by the persistent fog that shrouds the island during the warmer months. A satellite image of Big Diomede island (Russia) and Little Diomede (USA) island, located in the middle of the Bering strait, can be viewed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Diomede.
It has not been confirmed by laboratory analysis that the influenza-like illness affecting the population of Little Diomede is the result of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection. This remote isolated island community of 130 people is likely to be susceptible to infection by many respiratory infections that make little impact in larger communities. However, pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus has been responsible for 6 deaths so far in mainland Alaska and the authorities are being prudent in adopting a precautionary strategy.
The HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of Alaska can be viewed at http://healthmap.org/r/00_d. - Mod.CP
Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics Univ of West Indies Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message board at: http://www.emergingdisease.org/phpbb/index.php Also my new website: http://drpdoyle.tripod.com/ Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa Go with God and in Good Health 
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