The Nunatsiavut Government has confirmed that Gussie Bennett of Nain, 14, died of tuberculosis-related complications.
The Nunatsiavut Government stated in a news release Thursday that it is working with Labrador Grenfell Health to try to track down anyone who may have been in close contact with the boy, and is taking measures to try to contain further cases.
“It is important for residents to understand that there is no imminent risk to the community, as TB is spread through close contact with infected individuals,” Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe stated in the release. “If residents are concerned they or their loved ones may have signs of tuberculosis, they should immediately report to the Nain clinic. TB can be prevented and can be treated.”
The Department of Health and Community Services also issued a news release on the matter, saying people who have had regular or prolonged contact with the boy will be contacted by a public health nurse.
Bennett came in to the Nain clinic on Friday, March 16 and was medivaced to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and then to St. John’s, where he died late Sunday evening.
The government news release also confirmed that based on a combination of diagnostic imaging, laboratory results and the preliminary results of an autopsy, the Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed TB is the suspected cause of death.
"The evidence so strongly suggests tuberculosis that we are proceeding on the basis that it is tuberculosis," said an emailed repsonse from the Department of Health and Community Services. "Final confirmation relies on tests that may take multiple weeks to come back."
Nunatsiavut and Labrador Grenfell Health are working to determine whether additional supports are needed, and have been in contact with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada.
Lampe said he and Nunatsiavut’s Health Minister Darryl Shiwak spoke with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who assured them that all necessary supports will be provided.
“We are working out the details, but expect required resources to arrive in the community as soon as possible,” Lampe said.
Philpott is slated to make an announcement on Friday, with Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national body representing Inuit, to set a date for the elimination of TB in Inuit communities.
Tuberculosis has been an issue on the coast of Labrador and other parts of the North for a number of years, with rates of TB among Inuit populations being 290 times higher than in the non-Indigenous population.
It can be spread through the air by coughing, sneezing, sharing of smoking devices or talking. Symptoms may include a cough that lasts for two or more weeks, chest pain, loss of appetite, fever, feeling weak or extremely tired, and night sweats.
People experiencing these symptoms should go directly to their local health care facility. TB is preventable and curable. Treatment to cure TB normally involves taking medication for six to 12 months.