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Study: Black kids in U.S. have higher risk for death from sepsis than White kids

Study: Black kids in U.S. have higher risk for death from sepsis than White kids
Black children are more likely to die from sepsis than their White and Hispanic peers, according to a new study. File Photo by Mary Rice/Shutterstock

Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Black children hospitalized in the United States have a significantly higher risk for death from sepsis than White or Hispanic children, according to a study published Monday by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Severe sepsis is a life-threatening reaction caused by the immune system overreacting to an infection, and it occurs most frequently in newborns and infants.

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With an average of 10 days, Black and Hispanic children also had longer hospital stays than White children, who had averaged eight days, the data showed.

"There is growing evidence that structural racism may be an important factor in the social and economic conditions that ultimately lead to health inequalities in children," study co-author Dr. Nadir Yehya said in a statement.

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"Our findings demonstrate a need to examine the different ways in which these biases may contribute at structural, interpersonal or individualized levels to sepsis outcomes in children," said Yehya, attending physician in the Pediatric Sepsis Program and the Division of Critical Care Medicine at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

More than 75,000 children and teens in the United States are hospitalized with sepsis annually, and 7,000 of them die, according to the Sepsis Alliance.

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Previous studies have found that Black adults and uninsured people are more likely to die from sepsis, and that those living in high-poverty areas are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia researchers said.

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The new study included 9,816 children diagnosed with severe sepsis from the 2016 Kids' Inpatient Database, which records 80% of pediatric hospital discharges across 47 U.S. states.

Of the children in the study, 15% died from sepsis.

However, 18% of Black children in the study died from the disease, compared to 13% of White children and 14% of Hispanic children, the data showed.

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Risk for death from sepsis for Black children was 60% higher than that for White children in the western United States and 30% higher in the South.

More White children -- 52% -- were privately insured than Black -- 23% -- or Hispanic -- 20% -- children, and Black and Hispanic children were up to twice as likely to live in low-income ZIP codes than White children.

And children from households lacking health insurance or whose parents paid out-of-pocket for care had a 30% higher risk for death from sepsis than those who had health insurance or Medicaid.

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A range of factors may contribute to poorer outcomes for severe sepsis in minority children and those of lower socioeconomic position, including lack of access to quality healthcare and provider bias, the researchers said.

Further studies, they said, are needed to investigate why these disparities exist and how they can be addressed.

"Some of the disparities in outcomes from sepsis that we've identified related to race/ethnicity and socioeconomic position are alarming, but this analysis is an important step toward working out why they exist and what measures can be taken to address them," study co-author Dr. Hannah Mitchell said in a statement.

"Importantly, no differences in survival were seen between publicly and privately insured children," said Mitchell, a pediatric resident at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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