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Latinos and blacks in California more likely to die of H1N1 than whites

January 14, 2010 |  2:00 pm

California Latinos have been nearly twice as likely as whites to die of H1N1 flu since the pandemic began last spring, according to statewide figures released this morning by the California Department of Public Health.

Over the same months, blacks in the state have been 50% more likely to die of H1N1 flu than whites, according to the report.

H1n1chart “Not everybody has been impacted equally” by H1N1, said state epidemiologist Dr. Gilberto Chavez during a briefing this morning. Chavez said statistics have shown "very important racial disparities” in H1N1 mortality and hospitalization rates.

Chavez said blacks were three times as likely as whites to be hospitalized with H1N1 flu, and Latinos twice as likely. He said Native Americans, who make up most of the “other” category in state H1N1 data, are also more likely to be hospitalized and die of H1N1 flu than whites.

There are several reasons for the higher mortality and hospitalization rates among those minorities, Chavez said. Blacks and Latinos have high rates of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, that studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate put them at greater risk of catching the flu, Chavez said. They also tend to have less access to healthcare and wait longer to seek help, he said, which reduces the chances for successful treatment with antiviral medication.

“For cultural reasons, they may be waiting too long to seek care,” Chavez said. “This gives us an idea of who we need to target for outreach and immunizations.”

More difficult to explain, Chavez said, is why Asians were more likely than whites to be hospitalized with H1N1, yet are less likely to die of the flu strain.

Chavez said state officials are still compiling an ethnic breakdown of those vaccinated against H1N1 flu and trying to determine whether there is a connection between vaccinations and lower mortality or hospitalization rates.

Los Angeles has seen proportionally more Asians seeks vaccination at county-sponsored clinics than other minorities, according to the most recent figures released by the county’s Department of Public Health in November.

Of those vaccinated at the clinics, 29% were Asian, 44% Latino, 3% black and 19% white, county health officials said. Los Angeles County is 47% Latino, 29% white, 13% Asian and 8% black, according to the most recent census figures.

A Times/USC poll in November found blacks in California were far less likely than other groups to say they planned to get the vaccine.

Statewide, 8,400 people have been hospitalized with H1N1 flu and 479 have died, Chavez said. The number of deaths and hospitalizations has decreased markedly since October, Chavez said, but half the state population is still considered susceptible.

“We leave ourselves vulnerable if we do not vaccinate more people,” he said.

Last week, state health officials saw a slowdown in the use of H1N1 vaccines and began encouraging healthcare providers with unused vaccines to return them to the state to create a stockpile in case a third wave of outbreaks occurs this year, Chavez said.

Healthcare providers are not required to return unused vaccines, and it is unclear how many may have them, Chavez said. State and county officials have declined to release a list of providers that ordered and received vaccine, citing privacy concerns.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske