Northern health officials are growing increasingly concerned as infection rates from a dangerous superbug continue to rise.
Figures released Friday show infection rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – referred to as MRSA – have more than quadrupled in the Northwest Territories since 2007. And although the bug is still most often spread in hospitals in southern Canada, it is now more common in the NWT among the general population, especially in its smaller communities.
"It's one of our top concerns," said Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT's deputy chief public health officer. "It is one our priorities because this particular bug is quite nasty."
There have been 142 cases so far in 2012. The next highest year, 2010, had 138 over the full 12 months.
The territory's latest MRSA figures show an infection rate of 4.3 cases per thousand residents. That's more than four times the 2007 rate of one per thousands residents.
Andrew Simor, a doctor at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital who has published research on MRSA, said few other jurisdictions track MRSA infections acquired outside hospitals, but the NWT figures are likely to be tops in the country.
"I suspect that is substantially higher than it would be in most other areas of the country. There's no way to be sure but it would be hard for me to imagine similar rates in Ontario or the Maritimes."
The only province that does track community-acquired MRSA is Alberta, Dr. Simor said. There, the infection rate in 2008 was 0.2 per thousand – less than one-seventh the NWT's rate that year.
Community-acquired MRSA is becoming more common everywhere in Canada, said Dr. Simor. But the NWT is one of the few places where it is now more prevalent than hospital infection.
MRSA normally attacks the skin and soft tissues, leaving them inflamed, painful and sometimes pus-filled.
The infection can spread to internal organs and can also lead to more serious conditions, including pneumonia or flesh-eating disease.
Penicillin and similar antibiotics no longer work on MRSA.
Since 2008, 55 people have been hospitalized in the NWT with MRSA infections. Five of them had to be flown south for treatment and two died.