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Native Americans at higher risk from H1N1, Obama advisors warn

President Obama’s advisory council led by the nations’ leading scientists and engineers released a report assessing preparations for 2009-H1N1 Influenza A. The report outlined steps to implement nationwide to curtail a serious H1N1 outbreak and subsequent impact.

The report said the precise impact of the resurgence of H1N1 infection is impossible to predict, but a plausible scenario is that it could produce infection in 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. population this fall and winter.

It said certain populations including Native American groups are considered high risk and have elevated risks of severe outcomes.

The report said it is unlikely that the H1N1 pandemic will reach the same deadly proportions as in the 1918 – 1920 Spanish flu, also an H1N1 swine flu, but that the 2009 outbreak will be more dangerous than the 1976 swine flu outbreak.

The seriousness of H1N1 is not due to its severity, but rather the fact that people have no or little immunity to the virus. The report indicates the possibility that overwhelming numbers of people could become infected, and that mortality could reach 30,000 to 90,000.

Federal health officials recently announced $350 million in national grants to fight H1N1, but that money is going to states and hospitals, not to the federally recognized tribes. The National Indian Health Board cited this policy as making reservation communities increasingly vulnerable to epidemics.

An internal document produced by the National Centers for Disease Control said one disadvantage of the Public Health Emergency Response grant is that it doesn’t allow enough time for local and tribal concurrence, but instead uses alternative strong language asking that most or a significant amount of funding should go to local and tribal efforts.

This grant is a little different in that by using the states as a conduit the money is available very fast for communities to use, CDC spokesman Von Roebuck said. “We’re trying to work within the system, and we’re definitely running against the clock.”

Roebuck said the CDC has asked the state health departments to reach out to all local and tribal communities to provide them information about how this funding could be used, and ask that tribal governments provide information as to how they could use that funding and why they deserve the highest priority.

“As we learn more about the virus we’ll continue to reach out based on the science into where we feel that it is going to get the most information out to populations,” he said. “Protecting as many folks and as many locations is definitely our goal.”