H1N1 Virus May Have
Infected Alaskan Island Village
Suspected H1N1 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
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,"
The illness is just the latest hardship for the residents of
the rocky island, which covers only two square miles of treeless
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 swine flu in a preliminary
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,"
Reference Sources 102