Minorities seem to suffer more from swine flu in US. For instance, the hospitalization rate for the American Indians was almost 35 per 100,000 in the state of Wisconsin between Aug.30 and Dec.21. The rate declined progressively as one went up the social ladder - 32 for Hispanics, nearly 28 for blacks, but only a little over 14 for the non-Hispanic whites.
Since September, the illness has caused 1,229 hospitalizations in the state.
AdvertisementOfficials don't know all of the reasons why there is a racial and ethnic disparity in flu hospitalizations, but suggested a number of possibilities. The nation already has disparities in a wide range of health care measures, including diabetes, infant mortality and teenage pregnancy. More to the point, minority populations have higher rates for some of the underlying medical conditions that can make swine flu more severe: diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, Mark Johnson said, writing for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A host of other issues may play a role in the swine flu disparity, including having transportation to clinics, access to health care and health insurance.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker said the disparity, which is evident also during normal seasonal flu, was not surprising. "Is it troubling. Yes, it's troubling."
State and local health leaders said they anticipated this disparity and made extra efforts to reach minority populations with vaccine clinics. Health agencies worked with faith-based and community-based organizations to organize clinics. They announced clinics on local radio stations in Spanish and Hmong.
Paul A. Biedrzycki, Milwaukee's director of disease control and environmental health, said the city worked with the Black Health Coalition and set up clinics in census areas with large black and Hispanic populations.
Biedrzycki said the city's health department is already examining ways to reduce the racial and ethnic disparities in swine flu hospitalizations. One possibility is forming health "strike teams" that could be dispatched to schools in neighborhoods where there are many flu cases.
In Boston too, the disproportionate effect of swine flu on minorities is striking.
Blacks make up one-quarter of the city's population, but they were 37 percent of the swine flu cases. Latinos are 14 percent of the population, but more than one-third of those with confirmed cases of the new H1N1 virus this spring and summer were Latino.
Dr. Anita Barry of the Boston Public Health Commission says she and her colleagues didn't expect such large disparities, NPR radio reported.
Low-income parents have a harder time keeping their sick children home from school.
"For some parents in lower-wage jobs, if they don't show up at work, they don't get paid, and people may already be on the economic margins," Barry says. "So parents were desperate to get some of these children back in school."
As a result, there were many sick, contagious kids in Boston classrooms this spring. Because of the economic pressures and demographics of the Boston school system, most of them turned out to be black or Hispanic.
Barry says this abetted the spread of the new flu among those groups. Blacks and Hispanics were also twice as likely to require hospitalization for the new H1N1 virus that is, their infections were more severe than those of non-minorities.
Again in King County, Washington, more than half of people infected with the virus were non-white.
Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett is an epidemiologist with Seattle & King County Public Health, noted sharply, "H1N1 is not an equal opportunity infection. It did seem to affect certain communities more than others and these communities are some of the same ones at high risk for chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes. So it's quite possible that some of the same factors that contribute to disparities in those chronic conditions played a role in those disparities for H1N1 that we saw in the spring."
Dr. Kwan-Gett says there's not enough data to explain why certain communities were harder hit. But he suspects factors such as socio-economic status, education, and language barriers may have hampered people's ability to get medical help in the last outbreak.
Alanna Beebe is a program manager at Seattle & King County Public Health. Her job is to get the word about H1N1 to communities, help people learn how they can protect themselves from the virus, and provide information about the free clinics.
Beebe said,"We've been delivering fliers for instance, to homeless shelters for families in the U District, or bringing information to Vietnamese grocery stores and restaurants in the International District or in different areas where we know we can find folks who maybe don't speak English very well, we know they aren't getting information so we're trying to literally go on to the ground, and bring it to them."
The department has also taken out ads in ethnic newspapers, and created public service announcements for radio stations that reach non-English speaking communities.