07/10/2012 01:18 EDT | Updated 09/09/2012 05:12 EDT

First Nations people sign up to help solve medical mystery

Researchers at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine want to find out why Indigenous people are especially susceptible to a potentially deadly bacterial infection.

The Haemophilus influenza type A (H-I-A) bacterium mostly affects small children, leading to high fever, sepsis or meningitis.

In an effort to help solve a medical mystery, about 60 First Nations people were signed up to give blood samples and throat swabs in Thunder Bay on Tuesday.

Dr. Marina Ulanova said in the last decade, 11 of the 13 people in the Northwest affected by the bacteria were known to be First Nations people.

"And I'm puzzled with this fact because this infection should be controlled by natural immunity,” she said.

The samples may also help develop a vaccine.

"We hope with this new knowledge that we're trying to get — and working with this new vaccine development — we can prevent this infection amongst susceptible populations,” Ulanova added.