Overcrowding in Inuit homes linked to children’s lung infections: new study
"Interventions are urgently needed to address the overcrowding issue"
Overcrowding in Nunavut households appears to explain why young Inuit children in Canada suffer one of the highest rates of lower respiratory tract infections in the world.
That’s according to a new a study published Feb. 15 in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
“Interventions are urgently needed to address the overcrowding issue, as they may have the greatest health benefits and further studies are warranted to examine the impact of decreasing household crowding on the health of Inuit children,” say the respiratory disease experts, who work at Montreal’s Ste-Justine Hospital, McGill University and the Ottawa-based Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario,
Further studies are needed to examine the impact of decreasing household crowding on the respiratory health of these children, say authors Sze Man Tse, Hope Weiler and Tom Kovesi, who looked at the relationship between food insecurity and severe respiratory infections in Inuit children under two years of age and health centre visits for respiratory problems over the past year.
Lung infections such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are serious — and costly — health issues in Canada’s North: hospitalization rates for lower respiratory tract infections are 10 times higher among Inuit children than other Canadian children, they note in their study.
But although child and adult food insecurity affect seven in 10 Inuit, this is “not significantly associated” with lung infections, said the new study, which looked at 388 children aged three to five years who participated in a cross-sectional survey of the health of preschool Inuit children in Nunavut from 2007 to 2008.
The majority of these children had been breastfed and had been exposed to tobacco smoke from their mothers’ smoking or passively in the house.
Eight in 10 children were found to lack enough vitamin D, which can lead to weak immune systems and preventable diseases such as rickets.
The study also explored the relationship between vitamin D status and lung infections, but found no link between vitamin D deficiency and lung infections.
“Supplementation is clearly beneficial in those cases. However, our study results do not demonstrate an association between vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency and reported respiratory infections among Inuit children,” the authors said.
The key factor in respiratory infections was overcrowding, at levels three times higher than generally accepted levels of “crowded,” they said.
Most households were crowded, defined as more than one person per room, with the median household crowding index at three people per room.
Household crowding and higher birth weight — possibly connected to maternal diabetes — were also associated with reported severe chest infections before the age of two years, the study found.
Canadian Inuit children have one of the highest rates of lower respiratory tract infections in the world, with admissions to hospital up to 10 times more frequent compared with other Canadian population, the study noted.
Other studies have documented “an alarming hospitalization rate” of 484 per 1,000 infants under six months of age for bronchiolitis, an infection of the smaller airways in the lower part of the lung.
Rates of complications are also high, with 12.8 per cent of admitted children requiring intubation to breathe.
Previous studies have shown that medical evacuations and treatment for lung infections among young Inuit children cost the Government of Nunavut and Quebec — where in Nunavik rates of lung infections and overcrowding are similarly high — millions of dollars a year.
Other studies have also shown overcrowding makes Inuit sick from stress.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that overcrowding causes serious wear and tear on the body’s major systems: heart, lungs, nerves, immunity and metabolism.