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Ochsner doctor's research shows COVID-19 put strain African American community's health problems

"Most of these patients have a high rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity," she said.

NEW ORLEANS — An Ochsner doctor wanted answers as to why more African-Americans are dying from COVID-19 in Louisiana. The number is 59 percent in a state where the black population is 33 percent. 

And her recent findings were just published in the New England Journal Of Medicine online. 

Dr. Eboni Price-Haywood took a deep dive into what doctors at Ochsner were seeing treating COVID-19 patients in March and April. Of 3,500 patients testing positive, 70 percent were African-American.

"Most of these patients have a high rate of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. We did notice that our black patients had a higher proportion of those, or higher percentage of those conditions," explained  Dr. Eboni Price-Haywood, the Ochsner Director for the Center for Outcomes and Health Services Research.

Price-Haywood is a primary care physician who was also the principal investigator on the study. She uncovered that black patients were more likely to come to the emergency department, a possible sign they were already sicker. So she dug deeper. 

"Once we accounted for the person’s age, their gender, number of chronic health conditions, and really how sick were they on admission, once you account for those factors, then race is no longer an independent risk factor for death," Dr. Price-Haywood said. 

So if a second spike in cases comes, what have we learned from this?

"We want to shift testing out to the community, as opposed to people having to wait to be tested and coming into the emergency department," she said.

So, the first strategy focuses on the short term. Just like with cancer, find it early and it’s more curable, but also identify the many who have the virus but never get sick. That way, they can stay away from high risk people.  

And the second strategy is for the long term.

"In this part of the country, we do have high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, and the question is what are we going to do about it," she said.

Dr. Price-Haywood says COVID-19 just called attention to years of health problems, and the need for action, like access to more healthful foods and walkable neighborhoods.

Dr. Price-Haywood says her study also found that more African-Americans had signs of inflammation. It could be related to stronger immune response that is damaging, but she says more studies are needed to see if there is a genetic underlying cause.

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