A study of indoor air quality and housing characteristics in isolated First Nations communities found elevated rates of respiratory infections and wheezing in young children, which the authors linked bad events in their home.
Researchers who analyzed factors that can affect respiratory health in four First Nations communities in the Sioux Lookout region, northern Ontario, found high levels of mold on interior surfaces and levels. Elevated levels of endotoxin, a residue of some bacteria implicated in wheezing.
Indoor air quality, dust mite concentrations, and pollutants from wood smoke were also analyzed.
The study, which included homes with 98 UN children aged three and under, found that 85% of homes lack controlled ventilation, more than half had damaged windows, 44% showed water seepage in the outer walls and 6% had immediate safety issues.
Dr Thomas Kovesi, pediatric respiratory specialist who led the project’s research team, said housing shortages were linked to high rates of childhood respiratory illness – 21% of the children in the study were hospitalized during the first two years of life and a quarter required medical evacuation because of respiratory illness.
“People talk a lot about the inadequacies in First Nations housing, but very few studies quantify it,” said Kovesi, a doctor at Children’s Hospital Ottawa, CHEO. “We now have high-quality data showing what problems these homes have.
“And our other key finding is that air quality problems are linked to lung problems in children.”
Nearly 40% of children experience wheezing due to a cold, a symptom of asthma, although only 4% are diagnosed with the condition.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection rates are also high in the Sioux Lookout area, where there are about 44 RSV hospitalizations for every 1,000 babies born each year, compared with 10 per 1,000 babies in Toronto. Kovesi said hospital admissions due to RSV in some areas of Nunavut have reached 300 per 1,000.
Kovesi said the study, most of which was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, took about five years of planning. Data was collected from 2019 to 2020.
The homes analyzed in this study are a third smaller than the average Canadian cottage, Kovesi said, but they have an average occupancy of 6.6 people per house, compared with the average. of Canada is 2.5.
Overcrowding and reduced ventilation are partly responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks, which have spread disproportionately through First Nations communities throughout the pandemic.
Bearskin Lake First Nation in northern Ontario declared a state of emergency this month as an outbreak infected more than half of its residents.
“I think the link (between poor housing conditions and the COVID-19 outbreak) is very clear and very direct,” Kovesi said. “First, these are really overcrowded homes. And if someone has COVID, there’s nowhere else they can go to quarantine.”
The authors call for action to improve housing and infrastructure in First Nations communities to benefit overall health.
“Without adequate ventilation, these homes are like living in a plastic bag,” said study co-author Michael McKay, Director of Housing and Infrastructure, Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Medical Center, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Service, and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
Kovesi, who has done previous research on indoor air quality and lung problems in Nunavut children, said his team is expanding their research to other Indigenous communities across Canada. as part of a study entitled FEHNCY (Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of the First National Children and Youth).
“We know very little about air quality in First Nations homes in Canada,” says Kovesi. “But we have to start getting that data.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on January 24, 2022.