This year, the world watched the emergence of a new strain of influenza
virus. Health officials are still closely monitoring the spread of the
H1N1 virus and taking steps to protect vulnerable people - especially
immigrants and refugees - from the disease.
vulnerable because moving from one country to another - especially
under stressful circumstances - can be an emotionally wrenching
experience. Research shows that immigration is also a physically
exhausting process that leaves immigrants and refugees more vulnerable
For example, immigrants and refugees tend to have a
lower rate of immunization, says Tulane University public health expert
"Just the regular immunization… just the
stress and irregularity of moving and being part of a new country and a
new community brings that with it… the process of moving and the
process of acculturation and a new society brings with it unprecedented
levels of stress," Lichtveld says. "Also, learning a new language,
getting a new job, all things that make you more vulnerable in general."
says these kinds of stressors put refugees and immigrants at higher
risk of a disease such as pandemic flu - regardless of the country
they're coming from or going to. She says that as a result, they also
tend to have a higher rate of infectious diseases.
a group of public health experts worked together to create
recommendations to address the vulnerabilities among refugees and
immigrants. They determined the best interventions that should be done
by governmental and non-governmental organizations, other measures that
can be done by individual health care providers and, finally, actions
that can taken at the community level.
"We need to work
together to make sure that communities are engaged and understand and
will collaborate when we provide the advice - as we did with the recent
H1N1 outbreak - to remain at home when you are ill," Lichtveld says.
need to be able to make sure that we can indeed implement voluntary
isolation and quarantine, that when we advise to take personal
protective measures that those indeed are implemented."
and her colleagues also recommended that mental health issues be
addressed aggressively during and after an incident such as a disease
outbreak. She says, unfortunately, mental health is often an
afterthought in the response strategy.
"Mental health is one of
the longest and longest lasting adverse impacts of a disaster,"
Lichtveld says. "And you can look at the pandemic flu, in fact, as a
She says outbreaks like pandemic flu put added stress
on people who are already trying to acculturate to a new area. These
pandemics create fear and anxiety in people who already are unsure of
their place a new society and often don't know where to turn for help.
says public health leaders have learned from other infectious disease
outbreaks. She says they need to apply the lessons learned to all
members of their society, even the newest ones.
Her paper is published in the American Journal of Public Health.