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Will Canada trigger an official world pandemic?

VANCOUVER - H1N1 outbreaks in Nunavut and northern Manitoba may be the evidence that leads the World Health Organization to declare a global pandemic.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, senior WHO official Keiji Fukuda expressed worry about the numbers of aboriginal Canadians confirmed with H1N1, also known as swine flu.

Partly as a result of outbreaks at St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill reserves in northeast Manitoba, 26 persons, over half of them aboriginal, are now on respirators. A two-month-old baby was flown out of St. Theresa Point on Monday with pneumonia.

In Nunavut, WHO's worry was based on a doubling of H1N1 cases on Tuesday, from 25 to 53. But Nunavut's chief medical officer, Dr. Isaac Sobol, today said he didn't see a "disproportionate number of serious cases" in Inuit communities.

Sobol said the severity of H1N1 in the North was the same as in other parts of Canada.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, CBC News reported that another 43 cases had been confirmed in Nunavut, bringing the total to 96 -- almost a quadrupling of Monday's cases.

Also this afternoon, Manitoba reported four new aboriginal cases among 16 new cases. Two are reportedly from St. Theresa Point, one from Garden Hill, and one from the Island Lakes Regions.

"As far as we are concerned," said Garden Hill Chief David Harper, "it is a pandemic."

WHO seems likely to agree, probably within the next day or two.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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