Yukon doctor hopes to take sting out of frostbite

Whitehorse General Hospital general surgeon Dr. Alex Poole and local pharmacist Josianne Gauthier have brought a new treatment for frostbite to the Yukon.

Whitehorse General Hospital general surgeon Dr. Alex Poole and local pharmacist Josianne Gauthier have brought a new treatment for frostbite to the Yukon.

The treatment is designed for use in patients with severe frostbite and involves combining the standard technique of rapidly rewarming affected areas with the drug iloprost. Iloprost is used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension — a form of high blood pressure which affects arteries linking the heart and the lungs.

“The iloprost dilates the blood vessels … so we’re basically using it to reopen the blood vessels as we rewarm the skin to prevent fingers and toes from dying,” Poole said.

When frostbite occurs, the blood vessels in the affected tissues contract and spasm when they warm up. That can cause severe tissue damage through inflammation and clotting. At its worst, this process can ultimately require amputation, Poole said. Fingers and toes are especially susceptible.

Two Yukon Arctic Ultra runners who had suffered severe frostbite were treated using this method at WGH over the course of two months. Both patients recovered without amputation and with minimal long-term effects from their injuries. The results were published as a case study in the December 2016 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The treatment would later be used on six more patients, all Yukoners, who would recover similarly, said Poole.

The combination treatment can reduce the risk of amputations in patients with severe frostbite by up to 50 per cent, he said.

Poole said this combination treatment is more effective than rewarming alone, but it’s not a cure-all. Poole said people who think they might have frostbite should take proper care of their injuries, rewarming the affected area if possible in a tub and then seeking medical attention.

One danger of frostbite is that it can take time for people to realize how seriously they’ve been injured, Poole said. “Initially, frostbite may not look like much, just grey or pale skin … progressing to grey blisters and rawness and then blackened fingers or toes,” he said. “That black flesh means the digits have died.”

The treatment is new to North America but common in Europe, where iloprost is approved for sale. The drug is not approved for use in Canada and Poole and Gauthier had to get special permission from the federal government to import and use the drug in the Yukon. They have to order the drug in limited quantities, but are allowed to keep some in stock, Poole said.

“This treatment has caused a firestorm (in North America) now that we’ve used it,” he said. “Everyone is asking themselves why we weren’t doing it before.”

The Yukon sees two to three cases of severe frostbite a year, Poole said. Clinics will also be stocking the drug in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Yukon could enter Phase 3 of COVID-19 reopening plan beginning of August, CMOH says

About 350 British Columbia residents have entered the Yukon since July 1 under new travel bubble

Recount confirms Charlie elected chief of Liard First Nation, Morgan threatens legal action

Recount held July 6 narrowed the margin between Stephen Charlie and George Morgan to just four votes

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, citizen both set to appeal residency requirement ruling

VGFN filed an application for an extension while Cindy Dickson filed a notice of appeal

WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for July 8, 2020

Motorcyclist, car passenger dead after crash on Alaska Highway near blue bridge

Motorcycle rider, 43, from Whitehorse and car passenger, 47, from Manitoba pronounced dead at scene

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in schedule byelection for chief

The byelection to select the next Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in chief will happen on… Continue reading

Carcross/Tagish First Nation election recount called off

Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s plans to hold a vote recount in a tight… Continue reading

Today’s mailbox: COVID reopening

Letter to the editor published July 3

Vuntut Gwitchin councillor submits resignation

Vuntut Gwitchin councillor Cheryl Charlie has submitted her resignation, leaving Chief Dana… Continue reading

City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Ancient lake bed sediments, unusual plants are markers of the Takhini salt flats

It’s one of the Yukon’s best open geological secrets, a well-known but… Continue reading

Yukon University hires director of finance

Yukon University announced in a press release on June 29 that Sheila… Continue reading

Most Read