As the number of swine flu cases in Australia soars past 4,500, new
research indicates that indigenous people may be more susceptible to
the contagious virus, compounding an array of existing health
conditions. The findings have been detailed in the medical journal
The Lancet. The authors have warned of a looming international public
are concerned that indigenous peoples, such as Australia's Aborigines
and Native American Indians, suffer poor health that puts them at
higher risk from the H1N1 virus, which is commonly known as swine flu.
One Aboriginal man in Australia has already died from the infection, while Native Indians in Canada have seen many cases.
researchers, writing in The Lancet, have warned that the risk of
indigenous groups contracting the potentially deadly respiratory
disease is heightened because they are more likely to be malnourished
and living in poverty.
They say the "Westernization" of diets
has exacerbated health problems. Many indigenous people now eat foods
loaded with excessive sugar, salt and fat.
The researchers say
other factors have also contributed to this increased vulnerability to
swine flu, including the widespread use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Michael Gracey, a medical advisor to the Aboriginal-run organization
Unity of First People of Australia, says lifestyle diseases have left
indigenous populations more susceptible to the H1N1 virus.
general poor standard of health and the fact that many Indigenous
people in Australia unfortunately are smokers or have been smokers
makes them much more susceptible to respiratory illnesses," he said.
Experts say another problem faced by aboriginal communities is their geographical isolation and lack of medical workers.
people have died in Australia from swine flu, including a
three-year-old boy. In the northern state of Queensland, prison
inmates are being given antiviral drugs after outbreaks in two penal
The authorities say that for most patients, swine flu has caused only a mild illness.
in the South Pacific, almost one thousand cases of the virus have been
confirmed in New Zealand, while a handful of infections have also been
reported in Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.