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Suspected coronavirus cases, vaccination shortfalls, and undiagnosed scurvy in this week’s top Canadian health news.

Health News Recap

  • Six people in Quebec and at least one person in Vancouver were under close monitoring after potential exposure to the new coronavirus that has infected more than 400 people in China, spread to other countries and led to the deaths of more than 20 people. Canada’s chief public health officer said the risk to Canadians remains low, but airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal will begin screening passengers.
  • Canada met none of its national vaccination goals in 2017, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Notably, coverage rates for the diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine were below 70% in Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to Canada’s target rate of 95%.
  • Some of Ontario’s biggest hospitals were filled beyond 100% capacity nearly every day in the first half of last year, according to data obtained by CBC News. Five hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as the main hospitals in Hamilton, Sudbury, Peterborough and Niagara Falls were over capacity for more than 160 days of the 181-day period from January to June 2019; across the province, 83 hospitals were over capacity for more than 30 days.
  • British Columbia residents and businesses still owe $422 million in unpaid medical premiums and that debt remains payable even though the province ended the premiums in January. The province is also dealing with a legacy of millions of non-residents illegally claiming health insurance as the number of health cards circulating is about twice the number of current BC residents.
  • The Quebec government faced an outcry after announcing it would comply with a Superior Court decision that struck down the “end-of-life” requirement in the province’s law on assisted death. In response, Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann promised at least one day of public consultations about plans to expand medical aid in dying to people with mental illness and other conditions for which death is not imminent.
  • Ontario will proceed with a sweeping merger of public health units, despite municipalities warning that the changes will jeopardize services and result in layoffs of frontline staff. A discussion paper released at a rural municipalities’ conference recommended that the new public health units should not serve populations of more than 500,000 people.
  • Progress on a federal commitment to eliminate tuberculosis among Inuit has stalled, according to former federal minister of Indigenous services, Dr. Jane Philpott. She warned the rate of tuberculosis among Inuit is still about 300 times that of non-Indigenous Canadians and hasn’t changed since the government dedicated $27.5 million to fight the disease in Inuit communities in 2018.
  • Winnipeg Regional Health Authority reported a spike in syphilis cases from about 120 cases in 2017 to 612 in 2018 and a projected 1,000 cases in 2019. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia health officials declared a provincewide outbreak after recording 82 syphilis cases in 2019, up from 50 cases in 2018 and 38 cases in 2017.
  • Saskatchewan tied with Manitoba for the lowest overall support for expanding assisted death laws. A poll found that 66% of respondents in those provinces agreed with allowing people with serious, degenerative and incurable disease to access medical aid in dying, compared to 86% of respondents nationally.
  • Scurvy still occurs in Canada, and may be going undiagnosed, according to a McMaster University study. Researchers surveyed patient data in Hamilton’s two hospital systems over nine years and found 52 patients with low vitamin C levels, including 13 who could be diagnosed with scurvy and an additional 39 who tested positive for scurvy but did not have documented symptoms.

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