Native Americans At Higher Risk For Flu Complications

By Tristan Ahtone
October 08, 2013
Centers for Disease Control
An Educational Poster On Seasonal Flu Specifically Targeting Native Americans

Health Departments in the Southwest are beginning to see some of the first flu cases of the season. Officials warn there are many populations at higher risk for health complications for the flu.

One high-risk group is Native Americans. However, the reason why isn’t fully understood.

Each year between five and 20 percent of the nation comes down with the flu, with thousands of hospitalizations and even deaths. Some of the highest risk populations are people of any age with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or lung disease, people over the age of 50, and Native Americans.

“The American Indian, Alaska Native population has been shown to be at risk of influenza-related complications and even to have higher death rates,” said Joan Baumbach, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health. “It’s not just American Indians in the United States, but it’s been seen in other American Indian, Alaska Native populations in other countries as well.”

Baumbach says it’s not clear why Native Americans are at higher risk. However, with New Mexico’s Native population at around 10 percent, and similarly high populations in Arizona and California, officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated.