Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swine Flu's Bigger Impact on Blacks and Hispanics is Not Being Addressed

by Juan Gonzalez

During all their swine flu briefings the past few months, city and federal health officials have been virtually silent about the outsize impact the pandemic appears to be having on Blacks and Hispanics.

The Centers for Disease Control alluded to the problem in a small Sept. 4 report, but only in a passing mention. That report, an analysis of the first H1N1-related deaths among U.S. children, revealed that 33% (12 of 36) were among Hispanics.

All told, half of the H1N1 children's deaths between April and August were among African-Americans and Hispanics. That's considerably more than the percentage of both groups in the population.

Since then, the total number of pediatric fatalities has reached 60, but the CDC has not issued any further ethnic and racial breakdowns on the impact of the disease. Asked about that yesterday, an agency spokesman said a new report will be ready before the end of the week.

By themselves childhood deaths might not seem sufficient in number to raise alarm bells. But several recent studies from local health departments around the country suggest a broader trend is already underway in minority communities:

Boston's Public Health Commission found that 37% of all swine flu cases in that city occurred among blacks, though the Black population is only 25%. Likewise, Hispanics comprise 14% of Boston residents but one-third of all confirmed H1N1 cases. Even more disturbing, three of every four people hospitalized for the virus in Boston have been Black or Hispanic.

Chicago's Department of Public Health studied 1,500 lab-confirmed swine flu cases between late April and late July and found Blacks and Hispanics were four times more likely to be hospitalized than whites.

Oklahoma's Department of Public Health reported last week that African-American children in the state were being hospitalized for swine flu at three times the rate of white children and twice the rate of Native American children.

The higher hospitalization most likely reflects disparities in health conditions among population groups, experts say. Asthma and obesity, for instance, are more prevalent among African-Americans and Latinos, precisely the kinds of conditions that can lead to more severe reactions to the H1N1 virus.

Low-income families also are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to delay seeking treatment until a child has to go to the emergency room.

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