Get a flu shot. That's what the Centers for Disease Control is urging Latinos to do as the most aggressive flu outbreak in years sweeps the nation.
There's a reason the CDC is making a concerted effort to target Latinos. The demographic is less likely than other ethnic groups to take measures to prevent the flu.
That's because Hispanics have more limited access to medical care than other ethnic groups, particularly Latinos that have arrived in the country recently, according to Eduardo Azziz-Baumgartner, a medical epidemiologist with the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control.
Azziz-Baumgartner added that Latinos are also more likely to face language barriers and to move from location to location for work. But flu vaccines can be especially important for Latinos. Hispanics are more likely to have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, he said, which can make getting the flu much more dangerous.
Efforts by the CDC and other governmental and nonprofit groups to inform Latinos about vaccinations are underway, though. Information has been distributed to targeted communities in the form of Spanish-language videos and pamphlets.
"This community responds better to messages targeted to protecting the family," Azziz-Baumgartner said. "So if you make an appeal to an individual, such as a working male or female that is not necessarily high risk, this person may be more likely to seek vaccination if we say they're protecting small children at home or elderly parents at home by being vaccinated."
According to the Office of Minority Health, Hispanic adults aged 65 and older were 30 percent less likely to have received the flu shot in 2009 than non-Hispanic whites of the same age group. In 2010, the percentage of non-Hispanic white adults who received a flu shot was about 53 percent. That number dropped to about 40 percent for Hispanic adults.
These stats are concerning for one simple reason: The CDC announced on Friday that there is now widespread flu activity in 47 states, up from 31 states just two weeks ago. Areas with high Latino populations, such as Florida and Texas, have been hit especially hard. And the number of people visiting doctor offices and clinics with flu-like symptoms has risen from under three percent to more than four percent in the last month.
And according to a Gallup poll released Friday, the number of people who reported they had flu this season rose in December to levels not typically seen until February. While just more than three percent of those surveyed said they had the flu the day before they were surveyed, that number is a whopping 9.2 percent for Hispanics.
Flu season usually peaks in the middle of winter, and while most people suffer from symptoms that range from fever to coughing, it can also be deadly.
"CDC estimates that from the 1976-1977 season to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people," according to a note on the centers' website.
While a shot won't eliminate the chances of catching the flu, it does limit them. Azziz-Baumgartner says this year's vaccine is a relatively good match to the strains of flu currently in circulation. And it's not too late to get the vaccine, he added. It can still be effective even if given mid-flu season.
This interactive map allows users to put in their address and see pharmacies where the flu vaccine is available.