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New data show young, minorities disproportionately hit by H1N1 in L.A. County

January 8, 2010 |  7:16 pm

New data released this week indicate H1N1 flu disproportionately struck the young and minorities in Los Angeles County, groups public health officials have vowed to increasingly target for vaccination.

About 55% of patients hospitalized with H1N1 flu in L.A. County were Latino, 130 of 237 patients as of Aug. 3, the most recent data available from the county Department of Public Health. Of the total, 17% were white, 8% black and 4% Asian, records show.

Los Angeles County is 47% Latino, 29% white, 13% Asian and 8% black, according to the most recent census figures.

County public health officials began requiring hospitals to report the age and ethnicity of those hospitalized with H1N1 flu April 24, said Robert Perkins, a department spokesman. After Aug. 3, the department stopped requiring hospitals to report the ethnicity of H1N1 patients. Officials could not explain the change, but said it may have been because of changes in federal reporting requirements.

Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, director of the county’s Public Health Department, said the figures were not surprising given the county’s large Latino population, which skews younger.

He noted that the hospitalizations occurred before the county opened public vaccination clinics in the fall, and that they don’t “necessarily relate to who came forward and who didn’t for vaccinations.”

For instance, the number of blacks hospitalized was in line with the local population, but vaccination figures released Nov. 25 showed only 3% of those vaccinated countywide were black, compared with 44% Latino, 29% Asian and 19% white.

After those figures were released, county leaders devoted an extra $500,000 to public health outreach efforts targeting blacks for H1N1 flu immunizations.

“We’re focusing on getting the word out and doing more and more outreach with the hope that we’ll increase the rate” of blacks getting vaccinated, Fielding said. “The question is whether that translates into immunizations.”

As of Dec. 27, the most recent data available from the Department of Public Health, 2,063 patients had been hospitalized countywide with H1N1 flu and 115 had died.

Fielding said his staff plans to work with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze whether county vaccination clinics had any role in reducing hospitalizations, as well as the number of missed school and work days.

An age breakdown of L.A. County H1N1 hospitalizations showed that, as expected, the strain of flu struck the young and middle-aged more often than senior citizens. About 93% of those hospitalized were younger than 65. About 39% were 18 or younger. Statewide, the same age group comprised 29% of H1N1 patients in intensive care, according to the California Department of Public Health. The median age of intensive care cases was 35, according to state records.

Across California, 1,734 H1N1 patients had been hospitalized with H1N1 flu and 426 had died as of Jan. 2, the most recent data available from the state Department of Public Health.

Of intensive care patients hospitalized with H1N1 flu statewide as of Jan. 2, 43% were Latino; 35% white; 10% Asian; and 8% black, according to state records. California is 42% white, 37% Latino, 12% Asian and 6% black, according to the most recent census.

Next week, state public health officials plan to announce a new vaccination outreach program targeting youths, spokesmen said.

On Monday, officials plan to announce a new program that will allow individuals to text “No Flu” and their ZIP code to a phone number and receive a text message response with the location of a nearby clinic, pharmacy or other provider that has the H1N1 vaccine.

Al Lundeen, a department spokesman, said they are targeting college students and other youths with the text message campaign because, “we know from the demographics that they seem to be more susceptible. This is not the typical flu, which strikes the elderly.”

In recent weeks, H1N1 hospitalizations have decreased, and public health officials have said they believe the flu peaked in late October or early November. But Lundeen cautioned those who have not yet been vaccinated not to have a false sense of security.

“This virus has shown to be unpredictable in almost every way imaginable,” he said, and infections could still increase, particularly among those considered most at risk, such as young children and pregnant women. “We shouldn’t assume we’re out of the woods.”

“The number one thing anyone in California can do to protect themselves and their community is to get vaccinated,” Lundeen said.

L.A. County public health officials have so far declined to release a list of doctors, clinics, hospitals and other providers who received H1N1 flu vaccines, citing privacy concerns.

On Friday, the department released a list of the types of healthcare providers who received vaccines and their share of the county’s 2.5 million vaccines as of Dec. 30. Hospitals and family practices each received about 15%, followed by pediatricians (13%), internal medicine (12%), multispecialty (9.5%) and pharmacies (8.7%).

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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