Why are native peoples dying of pandemic flu at a greater rate?

Many observers have noted that native peoples in several countries appear to be dying at a greater rate than the majority populations in those countries. Why is this?

One variable commonly suggested to be responsible for this preferential susceptibility is genetics. Does this stand up to scrutiny? First Nations people in Canada likely have some genetic similarities with people of Mexican ancestry, but neither has any significant similarity to the Aborigines of Australia. Yet, all three groups appear to have higher rates of death than people of European ancestry.

So, what do each of these groups have in common?

  1. Lower socioeconomic status, which may translate into decreased access to medical care.
  2. Large families.

To distinguish between these two possibilities, one would like to identify a group with large families but relatively high socioeconomic status. In the United States, there is such a group: members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). In the State of Utah, where most Mormons live, family size is much larger than in other areas of the United States.

And Utah has the highest incidence of death from pandemic flu among the US States after Hawaii.

Why would large families lead to a higher death rate due to pandemic flu?

Children are spreaders. The more children in your environment, the more likely you will be exposed to the virus. Since adults die at a much higher rate than children, more adults being exposed to pandemic flu will result in a higher incidence of death.

The above is speculative, but does explain the available data. If true, then I would predict that a fine-grained analysis of where the deaths are occurring would reveal that adults that are exposed to lots of school aged children are more likely to die of pandemic flu, at least at this point in the pandemic.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Why are native peoples dying of pandemic flu at a greater rate?

  1. cr

    Your points are true, yet there may also be a genetic component.

    In the book, “1491” by C. Mann http://preview.tinyurl.com/ygnjjwa
    (it’s well worth a read, if anyone hasn’t yet,)
    why Native Americans, or other native peoples, fell to European diseases
    (besides that they did not have the same kinds of animals to domesticate and so were not exposed to as many diseases, and, did not have guns, et cetera)

    p 115 ..”no one’s immune system has enough different HLAs to identify every strain of every virus.”…

    p 116 “Indians” “have fewer HLA types than populations from Europe, Asia, and Africa.

    European populations have at least thirty-five main HLA classes,
    wheras Indian groups have no more than seventeen.

    In addition, Native American HLA profiles are dominated by an unusually small number of types.

    About one third of South American Indians, “…”have identical, or near-identical HLA profiles;
    for Africans the figure is one in two hundred.

    In South America”…” the minimum probability that a pathogen in one host will next encounter a host with a similar immune spectrum is about 28 percent;
    in Europe, the chance is less than 2 percent.”..

    p 118: T-helper cells: the body cannot sustain large numbers of both the type that targets microorganisms and the type that targets parasites;
    childhood exposure seems to skew immune systems one way or other: adult Indians may be more vulnerable to infectious diseases and adult Europeans may be more vulnerable to paratsites.

    p 154, …”just four mitochondrial haplogroups account for 96.9% of Native Americans”..
    p 184-185 (Haplogroup A)
    and, they and Australian Aborigines may have had common ancentry: p 190
    —————————————————–

    Some groups just may genetically have fewer tools in their immune system ‘toolbox’ – usually quite serviceable – except when a specific tool is needed but lacking…

    Also, so much similarity in populations lets things spread easier than when the next person a virus tries to get into is very different immune system than previous host, sounds like.

    (Guess one would have to also go compare the HLA profiles of the Mormons in Utah? Perhaps their immune toolboxes are not very genetically diverse either?)

    Not like, ‘herd immunity’, but, genetic immune system variety in populations sounds as if it could make it a bit harder for viruses, and similarity easier to spread virus.

    Social Distancing, school dismissals, and antivirals would save lives everywhere.

    I’d say use entry quarantines on reservations, and other places similarly vulnerable by genetics, economics, or any other lack of access to life-saving protection/care.
    Means to prevent infections and deaths during Pandemic should be being used.

  2. monotreme1000

    crfullmoon, there is definitely a genetic component to susceptibility to infectious disease, I just saying that it doesn’t explain the observed pattern of death in this pandemic. Australian aborigines are *very* different genetically from Native Americans. They most certainly do not have a recent common ancestry with Native Americans. I’ll look up some info on this and post later.

    But in any case, how do you explain Utah? There are more Native Americans and Mexican-Americans in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Utah is number 2 on the per capita death list, AZ is 9, NM is 7 and TX is 18.

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