Poverty and the Risk for Severe Influenza Outcomes

From access to quality education and job opportunities, to adequate sidewalks and green spaces, social and environmental factors have a huge impact on the health and well being of residents within a community, especially communities in poverty. Access to health care – including vaccinations and treatment for influenza – is no different.

On average, tens of thousands of people die from influenza each year, anywhere from 3,300 to 49,000. Influenza, a vaccine preventable disease, is incredibly contagious and can be spread by people who cough, sneeze, or even talk near someone. It is most dangerous for people with preexisting health conditions such as hearth and lung disease, as well as the very young, very old, and pregnant women. Knowing what we know about the spread of flu and those who are historically at risk, it’s important to consider how poverty and access to health care come into play.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those living in poverty are at increased risk for severe influenza outcomes, resulting in hospitalization or even death. Communities with high populations in poverty also tend to have ever-present barriers to immunization –decreased access to transportation, medical care, financial resources, and sick leave, to name a few. When barriers like these factor into an individual’s ability to live their healthiest life, the consequences can be dire. As a result, communities across the nation have begun to “meet people where they are” – both physically and financially, to provide immunization education information, and low or no cost vaccines.

Data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that community-based immunization programs often serve as a conduit to increasing vaccination rates across the board, especially with the flu vaccine. Programs such as school-based vaccination clinics, funded in part or whole by community partners and national organizations, focus on children in their community. Clinics in these settings are incredibly effective at providing vaccines for a large number of children while also reducing the spread of the flu in their schools, homes, communities.

It’s important for communities to be engaged in and increasing focus for flu vaccination outreach and early use of antiviral treatment in order to prevent the spread of the flu. Anyone can become sick from influenza. Education about what resources are available in your community is an easy first step to keep your community happy and healthy. Are you working on unique ways of reaching out to your community during this flu season? Let us know in the comments!

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