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Racial disparities seen in swine flu deaths

By CARLA K. JOHNSON, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO, Dec. 4, 2009 (AP): Swine flu death rates for blacks and Latinos in Illinois are double the rate for whites, state health officials said Friday.

It's unclear why. More chronic health problems, lower vaccination rates and less access to health care among minorities may be to blame, said Dr. Craig Conover of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The swine flu hospitalization rate for blacks and Latinos is three times higher compared to the rate for whites in Illinois.

``That's a considerable difference,'' Conover said at a meeting in Chicago. Federal officials said more research is needed to determine whether it's a national trend.

Health officials have met this fall in eight U.S. cities with journalists working for the ethnic news media, including Friday's meeting in Chicago. They're worried about a January surge of infection—with regular winter flu or swine flu—when students return to classes after the holidays.

They're also worried that flu vaccination rates are lower among minorities compared to whites. They're trying to spread the word that vaccine given in public health clinics is safe, free and effective. And ``no one's going to ask about immigration status,'' said Dr. Felipe Lobelo of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Illinois, health care professionals are staffing a 24-hour-a-day hot line—in English and in Spanish—to answer residents' questions about swine flu.

The Illinois flu hot line is 866-848-2094 for English and 866-241-2138 for Spanish. Translators are available for other languages.

Since April, there have been 67 Illinois deaths and 2,187 hospitalizations related to the swine flu virus. The rates by race are based on those numbers.

Among Illinois blacks and Latinos, the swine flu hospitalization rate is 23 per 100,000. In whites in the state, the rate is 7 per 100,000.

For Illinois blacks and Latinos, the swine flu death rate is 6 to 7 per 100,000. For Illinois whites, the rate is 3 per 100,000.

Flu activity is slowing nationally, with medical visits declining for the fourth straight week, said Dr. Ray Strikas of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

``I don't think we can credit the vaccine for the wave ebbing right now,'' Strikas said. Not enough people have been vaccinated to rein in infections, he said, and epidemics have natural peaks and valleys.

On the Net: www.flu.gov and www.ready.illinois.gov






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