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Keywords:

  • elderly;
  • Haitians;
  • health beliefs;
  • immunization;
  • influenza

ABSTRACT Objective: Each year, about 20% of the persons living in the United States gets influenza, and the majority of those who die as a consequence are over 65. Many of these deaths may be preventable. In this study, the health beliefs, attitudes, and cultural practices related to the prevention of influenza by Haitian elders are studied.

Design and sample: Using a focused ethnographic approach, 10 adults above the age of 55 and born in Haiti were interviewed.

Methods: Data were collected using interviews and participant observation. Interviews were conducted in Creole by the primary author. Participant observation occurred for the length of a “flu season” in a neighborhood nurse-managed clinic during the provision of routine health care.

Results: Themes of competing paradigms, fear of sickness, taking care of oneself, and cautious willingness emerged.

Conclusions: The participants described what is known in western medicine as influenza, as “a cold,” or “a big cold.” While they were uncertain of influenza immunizations, there was an overwhelming willingness to accept one if recommended by respected others and trusted health providers. The results of the study can serve as a springboard for future attempts to better understand this unique and at-risk population.