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Originally published Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 11:41 AM

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Study: Swine flu took a greater toll on minorities

Study: Swine flu took a greater toll on minorities

Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY — Last year's outbreak of H1N1 resulted in a higher toll on young, overweight minorities, say Utah medical researchers, who argue that not putting this population at the front of the vaccination line may have cost lives, and cost hospitals and taxpayers millions of dollars.

Children, pregnant women and people with lung problems were given first priority for H1N1 vaccinations, some of them standing in line for hours outside health departments.

But early on, doctors noticed the sickest patients were more likely to be young adults, obese and of Hispanic or Pacific Island descent, says Russ Miller, medical director of Intermountain Medical Center's respiratory intensive care unit.

They were also less likely to be insured, says Miller, lead author of a study confirming doctors' observations.

The study was published in this month's issue of Chest, the scientific medical journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Researchers examined the records of 47 H1N1, or swine flu, patients admitted to adult intensive care units in Utah at Intermountain Medical Center, LDS Hospital, and the University of Utah Health Sciences Center between May 19 and June 30, 2009, the first outbreak period in Utah. All of the 47 patients resided within Salt Lake County.

They found a disproportionate number among minorities.

Pacific Islanders make up 1 percent of the county's population, but accounted for 26 percent of the H1N1 stays in the intensive care unit. Hispanics are 13 percent of the population, but 23 percent of the H1N1 cases studied.

The patients were also more likely to be overweight. All of the eight patients who died were obese or morbidly obese, the study found.

More research is needed to determine if obesity or ethnicity alone are risk factors, or whether it's a combination of things, said Miller.

"But at least we got a hint at some of the socioeconomic factors at play,"said Miller, pointing to another disparity: a whopping 45 percent of the most severely ill had no health insurance. It's well documented that the uninsured delay getting care, he said.

The Salt Lake County data mirror similar findings in other parts of the country.

E-mail reporter Kristen Stewart at kstewart@sltrib.com.

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