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Constance Lake First Nation community members say outbreak of deadly fungal lung infection has killed at least three

Chief says four people are confirmed to have blastomycosis
2021-11-21 Ramona Sutherland SS
Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland gives an update on the blastomychosis situation in the community.

A deadly outbreak of a lung infection is impacting a First Nations community near Hearst.

In recent days, four people from Constance Lake First Nation are confirmed to have blastomycosis, said Chief Ramona Sutherland in an update today on Facebook live. 

She said 11 people have reported having a cough and heaviness in their lungs. Sutherland said people in the community and one dog have died from the infection. Sutherland expressed condolences to the families at the start of her update, but didn't say how many people have died. In emails to TimminsToday, community members said at least three people have died.

People have also been transferred to hospitals in Sudbury, Ottawa and Timmins. 

Blastomycosis is an infection caused by a fungus found in soil, wet wood or mould.

“There is urgent testing that needs to happen for people who have this heaviness in their lungs when they’re breathing and the testing will go directly to Toronto and then Toronto has been directed to send back the results as soon as possible when the testing comes from Hearst, Ontario,” said Sutherland in the virtual update.

The symptoms of the infection are feeling unwell, difficulty breathing, chills, fever and fatigue.

“If you have any of these symptoms, please, please, please go to the hospital. Don’t mess around with this, just go. Just go and get it checked out,” she said.

The infection is acquired through the environment and not passed person-to-person. Sutherland said it is not COVID-related and that people going to the hospital have also been tested for COVID. Those tests have been negative.

An investigation into the source of the infection will start tomorrow, she said.

Band office staff are working from home and Sutherland said a school closure will also happen. People are asked to try and stay home.

“We’re not considering evacuation right now, but I will start having discussions with one of the ministers about that,” she said.

At the Hearst hospital, she said a unit has been made for Constance Lake members. She said the operating room is closed so more doctors can help in the emergency room.

For the ongoing situation, Constance Lake First Nation is in contact with the federal and provincial governments as well as the Porcupine Health Unit.