Island village hit by suspected swine flu

November 7, 2009 By RACHEL D'ORO , Associated Press Writer
This October 2002 picture provided by Dr. David Head of the Norton Sound Health Corporation shows the village of Diomede on Little Diomede Island in extreme western Alaska. So many of the 130 residents of the isolated community 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 there from Nome 135 miles away. The medics arrived Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009 to administer doses of swine flu vaccine and deliver enough medicine to treat every resident if necessary. (AP Photo/Norton Sound Health Corporation, David Head)

(AP) -- Suspected swine flu is sweeping a traditional Eskimo whaling village on a remote Alaska 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 three miles from Russia's Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, is all the more isolated because passenger air service was halted four 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 from Nome. The medical team also brought enough medicine such Tamiflu 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 two 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. Three sick people, including a small child, also have been flown out of the village for treatment. At least one person has tested positive for in a preliminary analysis.

The 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 Gov. 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.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

A new class of drug to treat herpes simplex virus-1 infection

February 14, 2018
For patients with the herpes simplex-1 virus (HSV-1), there are just a handful of drugs available to treat the painful condition that can affect the eyes, mouth and genitals.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 07, 2009
During the 1918 Flu pandemic, several towns in the US tried to escape the flu by isolating themselves from the outside world. But isolation failed to stop the flu, the virus arrived in the post on contaminated letters and parcels. The same thing seems to have happened here.
not rated yet Nov 08, 2009
Were that the case, that surfaces remain infectious for arbitrarily significant time, then immunity would be the only relief.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.