American Indians Hit Hard By Swine Flu The mortality rate from the virus is four times higher among American Indians and Alaska Natives than any other racial or ethnic group. Officials blame the discrepancy on crowded living conditions, a higher incidence of complications from pre-existing conditions and poor access to health care facilities.
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American Indians Hit Hard By Swine Flu

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American Indians Hit Hard By Swine Flu

American Indians Hit Hard By Swine Flu

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

SIEGEL: Laurel Morales of Arizona Public Radio tried to find out the reasons for that disparity.

LAURA MORALES: It's a quiet morning at Phil Stago's home. He and his family live a tiny house in the tiny town of Winslow, Arizona, just outside the vast Navajo Nation. His 2-year-old watches cartoons and snuggles with her dad while the baby rocks in a swing. The mellow morning is quite a switch from the drama the family experienced in September. The Stagos were hit hard by swine flu.

MORALES: It just totally wiped them out for about a month. The whole family was sick for about a month.

MORALES: Stago says first his son got it - itchy throat, fever and aches - then 2-year-old Alicia picked up the virus.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY)

MORALES: She's feeling much better now. But when her newborn sister, Gabriela, caught swine flu, things got scary. They live in a rural desert town. Luckily, there's an Indian health service clinic and a hospital nearby. And the baby was taken to the hospital as soon as her fever hit 100.

MORALES: They secluded us from her, and they put her in a little tank of oxygen. Had to wear the whole - full isolation gowns and gloves and mask. That's pretty scary.

MORALES: Pulmonologist Michael Reedy(ph).

D: We locally are certainly seeing a large percentage of Native Americans affected.

MORALES: There are plenty of theories and speculation as to why indigenous people are more at risk. John Redd is an epidemiologist for the Indian Health Service.

D: When you think of risk factors for influenza - crowding, for example; poor housing - those are more present in many indigenous populations around the world.

MORALES: Access to health care is also an issue. There are a dozen Indian health-care centers scattered throughout the Navajo Nation, but the reservation is the size of West Virginia. Native American clinical nurse manager Cindy Galloway believes there's something else.

MORALES: They are more stoic people. They don't complain, frankly.

MORALES: Galloway says it's typical for an American Indian patient to wait until their symptoms become severe before they seek treatment.

MORALES: And that's what I've seen, is that people will tolerate feeling bad longer and thinking it's going to go away. When finally after four or five days they can't even take a deep breath, then they realize that this could be more serious.

MORALES: For NPR News, I'm Laura Morales in Flagstaff.

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