ABORIGINAL people swamped their local clinic in the remote community of Kiwirrkurra yesterday, desperate for answers about how swine flu was transmitted to the most remote indigenous community in Australia.
West Australian health authorities flew yesterday morning to the tiny community of 150 people - more than 600km west of Alice Springs in the Gibson Desert - taking swabs from those showing flu symptoms and distributing antiviral medication.
The health team arrived as it emerged that Australia had recorded a second swine flu-related fatality: 35-year-old Anthony Splatt from Colac in southwestern Victorian, who had Type 2 diabetes and was obese, died on Saturday.
In Kiwirrkurra, there was fear and confusion among the scores of women who crowded around the clinic's gates as a doctor and nurse from the West Australian Health Department arrived.
The community was the first place in Australia to be linked to a swine flu death after a 26-year-old man who had been residing in Kiwirrkurra died from swine flu in an Adelaide hospital late last week.
"We heard all about this swine flu on the news, and suddenly all this mob was frightened," said an elderly woman, Mary Elizabeth. "That young man who died, his wife always told him to go to the clinic but he don't listen.
"He was very sick already."
Another woman, 29-year-old Gemma West, said yesterday she was keen to be checked by a doctor after the swine flu case.
"I am so proud that I see the doctor," she told The Australian. "I want to stay strong and healthy. I don't want to lose my young life. I felt sorry for that young fella that pass away. He was really sick."
Public health physician Charles Douglas yesterday visited several people with influenza-like symptoms in Kiwirrkurra, but said he was not concerned that the disease had taken hold in the small community.
"I haven't found anything today that leads me to be particularly worried that there are large numbers of people with any sort of influenza in this community," Dr Douglas said. "I'm trying to reassure people here that they haven't got anything bad.
"But the really important message for people is that if they have flu-like symptoms, and they have conditions like diabetes or kidney or heart disease, it's really important for them to get to the clinic early."
Doctors and public health officials are worried that an outbreak of swine flu in remote indigenous communities could lead to more deaths because of the high incidence of chronic illness.
Health authorities began investigating how the 26-year-old man, whose home community is Balgo, more than 200km north of Kiwirrkurra, caught swine flu. The man, who had several chronic health conditions, had been staying in Kiwirrkurra, where his wife lives, for about three weeks before he became severely ill and was airlifted to Alice Springs hospital.
He was later taken to hospital in Adelaide in a critical condition.
He was diagnosed with swine flu on June 18 and died the following day.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday the best health authorities could do was to identify and treat people who had severe consequences from swine flu, prioritising them over the majority who would recover quickly without medical intervention.
"There is no way, ultimately, to stop that spread," Ms Roxon said.
Swine flu is an extremely sensitive topic among people in remote Aboriginal communities.
The fear of stigmatisation is so great that Northern Territory health authorities have refused to reveal which communities in central Australia have been affected with swine flu, referring to swine flu cases as being in the "Warlpiri region", which covers a vast distance and takes in several different communities.
People in Kiwirrkurra were yesterday desperate to emphasise that their community did not have any other confirmed cases of swine flu.
Kiwirrkurra chairman Brian Gordon said: "Other communities are saying this is not a good place, but it is a good place. The people are healthy here.
"We don't want to be ashamed, we want to just come straight out and say it, that we don't have the flu here. We are healthy people."
Dr Douglas said it was inevitable there would be further swine flu deaths, and those with chronic health conditions were among the most vulnerable.
"There are a number of deaths in Australia every year from the normal seasonal flu, and I anticipate that this swine flu will behave in much the same way," Dr Douglas said.
"In most people it will be a mild disease, but in people with more severe conditions it can be more severe and there will be inevitably some deaths."
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