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Boston's Minorities Hit Hardest By Swine Flu04:27
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Boston public health officials are concerned about data showing minorities are disproportionately hospitalized for H1N1 influenza, or swine flu.

Officials reported 480 confirmed cases of swine flu statewide as of Aug. 1. Three-quarters of people hospitalized for swine flu in Boston during the spring outbreak were black or Hispanic.

"That's cause for alarm," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. Ferrer said she observed the highest caseload in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and East Boston, which are densely populated by people with low incomes and by minorities.

The higher number of H1N1 cases among minorities, Ferrer said, reflects the unequal distribution of other illnesses in Boston and across the country.

Ferrer said it's difficult for low-wage workers to stay home when they fall ill or when a child does, so the H1N1 virus spreads at workplaces and public places.

Ferrer also noted a disparity in the severity of the illness among Boston's minorities. Forty-nine percent of people hospitalized had asthma, an underlying condition that is more common among blacks and Latinos versus whites and people of other ethnicities. Other underlying problems, such as heart conditions and diabetes, increase the risk of complications.

To prevent the spread of H1N1 swine flu, Ferrer recommends the basics:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • When you cough, cover your mouth with a sleeve or a tissue, then wash your hands.
  • Stay home when you're sick — and remain at home for 24 hours after fever has subsided.
  • Get vaccinated. Ferrer said there is no shortage of vaccinations for the seasonal flu; when the swine flu vaccine is released later this year, some people will be prioritized to receive the vaccine first.

This program aired on August 18, 2009.

Delores Handy Twitter Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.

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