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Cause of skin infection outbreak still unknown
Number of cases in Colville Lake decreasing

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 4, 2013

The cause of an outbreak of skin infections in Colville Lake is still not known, according to health officials.

Dr. Andre Corriveau, NWT's chief public health officer, said the infections are primarily staphylococcus aureus (also known as staph) and Streptococcus (also known as strep) bacteria.

There are still no reports of scabies, Corriveau said.

"None of the people assessed last week by the physician, even in December, had scabies," he said. "Right now scabies doesn't look like it was a significant factor."

Corriveau said while medical staff know what the infections are, it is still unclear what is causing them.

"What we don't know is why they got the skin infections," he said.

Humans carry bacteria on their skin, which can cause infection if it is able to penetrate the surface, Corriveau said.

The difficulty lies in determining factors contributing to some people getting infections while others don't, he said.

"We need to dig more into why this outbreak at this time," he said. "We all carry some skin bacteria that can cause disease, but we don't all have skin infections."

Some people develop dry skin in the winter, which can crack and allow bacteria to enter, Corriveau said.

Also, some households in the community are still without running water.

"Is it there that the infection hung around and started to re-spread to other people?" Corriveau said.

There was an outbreak last August as well, which Corriveau said could have led to the most recent outbreak.

Patricia Kyle, chief executive officer for the Sahtu Health and Social Services Authority, said treating the infection is being done on a case-by-case basis.

"Depending on the individual, case treatment could include anything from antibiotics, creams or lotions and education and information around taking care of whatever the skin infection or condition is," she said.

The health authority and the territorial department have been working with other regions to determine the best way to deal with the infection, Kyle said.

A home support worker has also been placed in the community. Kyle said the worker had originally been hired to provide additional medical services to the community and coincidentally arrived just in time for the outbreak.

"We received additional funding for a home care position in Colville Lake and we got the funding around the time that this started," Kyle said. "It wasn't just for this, but this has been her priority."

Colville Lake is serviced by a doctor six times per year and a nurse visits once a month for a week.

Nurse practitioners also visit the community and additional nursing visits have been added to help with treatment and follow up, Kyle said.

A skin infection specialist could also be dispatched to the community, but Corriveau said such a visit was not confirmed as of press deadline on Jan. 31.

Corriveau said the number of infections appear to be decreasing. However, he said if another outbreak occurs, more will need to be done to determine the cause.

He added an investigation could include a survey to help figure out why some people are being infected while others are not.

"Are there things they do that are different, is it only people that live in crowded houses? We need to get that level of detail," he said. "We need to find out more about what was different between one person and the other."

Corriveau said no matter what the outcome, working to make sure every household in Colville Lake has running water will mitigate the chances of potential outbreaks.

"It will be a great help when all the houses have running water," he said. "That would be the top priority in my mind in terms of preventing future outbreaks.

"It's one thing to give advice, it's another to be able to follow it."

The number of infections was not available.

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