Study: Blacks more likely to be in hospital with H1N1 in Ohio city
By Doug Caruso
The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Blacks in Columbus are nearly three times as likely as whites to be hospitalized with H1N1, according to a study that has public-health officials looking for more ways to vaccinate minorities.
Columbus Public Health will begin vaccinating students at Columbus elementary schools on Monday, said Commissioner Dr. Theresa Long, and free vaccination clinics will continue at the health department.
Outreach efforts at black churches began in October and are being ramped up.
"There's a disparity, a gap," Long said. "We know that means we need to pay special attention to what's going on and make special efforts to do anything we can to address the gap."
The Columbus study also showed that a disproportionately small number of black residents received vaccinations. Although blacks make up 26 percent of the city's population, they were just 14 percent of those vaccinated at city clinics between Oct. 20 and Dec. 22.
The data showed that blacks were hospitalized for H1N1 at a rate of 76.1 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 27.7 cases per 100,000 people among whites.
Improving the vaccination rate could help bring down the number of hospitalizations for everyone, said Dr. Mysheika LeMaile-Williams, medical director for the health department.
Preventing the illness is especially important for minorities who are less likely to have access to health care, she said.
"They allow their symptoms to linger and, once they get so sick they have to go to the emergency room, they're so sick they have to be admitted."
Another problem, Long said, is that blacks have higher rates of some chronic illnesses, including lung problems and diabetes. People with underlying illnesses have been much more susceptible to the flu and require more hospitalization.
Long said the research by Columbus Public Health epidemiologists mirrors earlier studies of H1N1 hospitalization rates.
"We actually know that in the first wave of the disease, colleagues in Chicago and Boston studied it and found a three- to four-fold increase in the African-American and Hispanic community," she said.
"That was not about vaccine availability, because there was no vaccine."
The first wave of H1N1 peaked in April and May. The second wave peaked in October and November.
"Even though we're not seeing a lot of flu right now, we might see a spike in February or March," said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, physician director of epidemiology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
"There's still plenty of vaccine available, and it's not too late to get it."
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