The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

U.S. could reach herd immunity by late spring

(Pixabay, YHN)

The United States could be approaching herd immunity, which occurs when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely, according to Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Based on the number of vaccinations that have already been administered, as well as findings from a recent study by Columbia University, Judd estimates the nation may reach herd immunity by May. The study by Columbia suggests that, as of the end of January, more than a third of the U.S. population had already been infected with coronavirus.

Scientists believe 72 percent of the population needs to be either exposed or vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to reach this goal.

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For Alabama, that means 3.5 million people need to have immunity.

“Three factors determine how quickly Alabama can get to 3.5 million people with immunity: number of people with a positive test, number of people who were infected with COVID but never had a positive test, and the number of people vaccinated,” Judd said. “We have great data to know how many people tested positive and how many people have been vaccinated. From there, we can estimate how many people have immunity but never received a vaccine and never had a positive test based on studies that have tested immunity in blood. We are able to put these numbers together and come up with the estimate of when we will reach herd immunity, which is May of this year.”

What happens when we reach herd immunity?

“It means that cases decrease without social intervention, which might be what we are starting to see right now,” Judd said.

Even though the data are hopeful, it does not mean COVID-19 will be eradicated or that we can let our guard down when it comes to following social distancing and masking precautions.

“I think that COVID-19 is going to be endemic in the United States,” Judd said. “It is going to be like the seasonal flu, something we have to tolerate regularly. There will be isolated outbreaks, and they will likely occur in populations with lower immunity. This means that, just like the flu, a strong vaccination campaign will be needed to keep people out of the hospital.”

Another positive trend that shows the reduction of the severity of COVID-19 cases is the decrease in the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

“We are seeing sharp declines in the hospitalization ratio in the last month and a half, likely driven by monoclonal antibody therapy, but possibly also driven by the vaccine,” Judd said. “If people are vaccinated and still become infected, the case may be milder than it would have been if they were not vaccinated, which leads to lower hospitalizations.”

While the production of the vaccine is increasing, there are still millions of people who do not have access to it. To reach herd immunity, Judd says the vaccine needs to be available to every community.

“We need to get consistent vaccine administration to lots of different populations” Judd said. “We cannot leave people behind. We have to make sure the vaccine is getting into all communities to get that base level of immunity to stop the virus from spreading.”

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit www.uab.edu/fightcovid19.

(Courtesy of UAB)

1 month ago

Third-generation nurse vaccinates mother, carries on tradition of service

(UAB/Contributed, YHN)

Her grandmother vaccinated people during the polio outbreak and would always be the nurse to vaccinate her own children when it was time for their annual shots. Her mother went on to become a nurse anesthetist. For Haley Fullman, the call to serve in health care has come full circle after vaccinating her mother with the COVID-19 vaccine last month.

Fullman, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, volunteered to help administer the vaccine when nursing students and faculty were asked to join frontline health care workers in the fight against COVID-19.

“When I learned of the opportunity to help in the hospital, I jumped at the chance,” Fullman said. “Not only would I be able to help people, but I would also gain hands-on experience. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

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Lisa Fullman, Haley’s mother and the assistant perioperative director for Children’s of Alabama South Outpatient Surgery and the chief nurse anesthetist, says she was proud of her daughter for wanting to answer the call to serve.

“In 30 or 40 years from now, she can look back and say she had a hand in a historic moment,” Lisa Fullman said. “I told her I thought she would be glad she did.”

When the opportunity arose for Haley Fullman to vaccinate her mother, they were both eager to make it happen.

“I was excited to give it to her,” Haley Fullman said. “I gave it to her on my first day in the COVID clinic. I had given a few before my mom came, so she was not my first. I wanted to do my best job possible. I made sure I did everything I was taught.”

“She did a great job,” Lisa Fullman said. “It didn’t hurt at all! I was so proud of her. I told her, ‘you did a great job, and I didn’t know what to expect.’”

The moment was even more meaningful because of their family history. Lisa’s mother and Haley’s grandmother, Lucy Putman, R.N., was an industrial nurse who worked for American Cast Iron Pipe Company for 30 years. She would give Lisa and her sister their vaccines when they were children.

“I wanted my daughter to be able to have that experience, even though it was the other way around,” Lisa Fullman said. “I think my mother would have been very proud of Haley. She was a great shot-giver, and so was Haley.”

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit www.uab.edu/fightcovid19.

(Courtesy of UAB)

3 months ago

UAB students fight COVID-19 one call at a time as contact tracers

(UAB/Contributed)

By the time Madelyn Wild gets the number, the clock is already ticking. At the other end of the line is someone who has just been diagnosed with COVID-19, whether they know it or not. As the phone starts to ring, she has no idea whether that person will be terrified, grateful or convinced that the entire pandemic is a hoax. Still, guidelines from the CDC specify that each new case should be notified in less than 24 hours, and she has a long list to get through.

Wild is a senior majoring in public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She also is a contact tracer for the School of Public Health, which has a contract with the Alabama Department of Public Health to assist in this crucial work. Each shift, she gets a new list of numbers to call.

“No shift is the same,” Wild said. “Some days are very slow and frustrating. And I have definitely had my fair share of rude people. I have had many other cases who have made me smile. I have been told several times what a blessing it is that we at the ADPH are taking the time to look out for everyone else’s health. I am always eager to see what each of my new cases is like.”

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Wild is one of dozens of students participating in UAB’s contact tracing efforts. Employees of UAB’s Survey Research Unit, who communicate with participants in large UAB studies such as the REGARDS stroke trial, are also doing contact tracing. Both groups are under the direction of Andrew Rucks, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy.

‘It saves lives’

“We have worked on thousands of cases,” said Bianca Godwins, a second-year student in the School of Medicine and Collat School of Business. Godwins is one of two managers responsible for overseeing up to 70 UAB undergraduate, graduate and medical students who act as case investigators.

“For the patient, it may seem intrusive or annoying to be asked to share their experiences; but it really is so important,” Godwins said. “It does truly save lives. When we let a patient know how long they need to stay in quarantine, and if that person follows through, that can represent hundreds of people saved from having to be exposed to COVID-19 – either saving their lives directly or at least saving them from having to undergo such a traumatizing ailment.”

Like her fellow contact tracers, Claudia Datnow-Martinez – a senior in UAB’s Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master of Public Health program who is also minoring in Spanish – has had her share of frustrating exchanges.

“There are patients who think we are trying to scam them, and there have been scammers who have posed as ADPH or UAB employees and asked inappropriate questions,” she said. “Patients who are really nice and understanding kind of make my day. For me, one of the best experiences has been to help the Spanish-speaking patients. Because of the language barrier, they may not be as informed. Some want to know, ‘How did I get this?’ and ‘How can I get better?’ I can explain things to them, like the importance of wearing their facemasks and covering their coughs.”

Random sampling

Wild got connected with contact tracing through a professor in the School of Public Health.

“Over the summer, I had taken a course focused on population health and COVID-19,” she said. “As part of the course, we all completed an online contact tracing certificate with Johns Hopkins University. After that, my professor had been in contact with the health department about the contact-tracing program, and I was recommended to participate.”

Datnow-Martinez turned to contact tracing after her job in a research lab was cut because of pandemic-induced budget cuts.

Godwins got involved when “the School of Public Health reached out to the School of Medicine to ask if any students were interested in taking part,” she said.

Phillip Braswell, who graduated from the School of Medicine this summer, did the same. “When I heard about the opportunity to work with ADPH to contact trace, I immediately signed up,” he said. “Contact tracing is one of the most important public health tools we have to slow the spread of a disease like COVID-19, and I felt like it was my duty to be a part of that.”

The response was so great that the schools had to use a random number generator to select the students who would take part as case investigators/contact tracers and to choose the lead investigators. “I was randomly chosen to be a lead investigator,” Godwins said, “only to be promoted to a project manager for the students a short while after.”

She seems like a natural choice for the job. Godwins is the president of the School of Medicine’s chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association and is pursuing a joint M.D./MBA because “I see from a systemic perspective how many gaps and inconsistencies there are in our health care system,” she said. “By combining clinical knowledge and managerial knowledge, I will be able to help fill those gaps and develop needed connections between physicians and health care executives – all for our future patients.” Plus, she is naturally suited to the contact-tracing role, Godwins added: “I love to talk.”

A typical shift

Unfortunately, there are so many conversations to have. “Our running trend is probably 4,000 or so cases each month,” Godwins said.

The students all work remotely, using a laptop and telephone headset. Shifts are designed to fit around student schedules, Godwins says. For instance, “med students primarily work from 5 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends,” when it may be easier to reach people who are at their jobs during the day.

Some patients love to talk. Many do not. “Our calls range from 30 to 45 minutes down to zero minutes if someone is not willing to talk,” Godwins said. “We get that all the time, unfortunately, partly because there are scammers who have taken advantage of the situation and used it to prey on people. Some aren’t surprised; others are super-afraid. They may be experiencing symptoms but can’t get off of work.”

If the patient was tested by their care provider, they already know they have tested positive. People who have been tested at a community drive or event may be hearing the news of their diagnosis for the first time. Either way, “we contact each one and provide them with information on health precautions and isolation,” Godwins said.

Then the tracers ask the person about where they have been and with whom they have been in close contact with over the past two weeks.

“We let them know this information will not be shared with anyone else, except their employer if they need to be notified, although the patient will be left anonymous,” Godwins said. “We ask for their recent contacts and contact those contacts.”

These contacts are told they have been exposed to someone with a laboratory-diagnosed case of COVID-19 but contact tracers do not reveal the person’s name. After each call is done, Godwins said, “we take all that information and put it in the ALNBS system for ADPH, and then they send that to the CDC.”

Common questions

“I often get asked, ‘How long will my symptoms last?’ and ‘Will I get this again?’” Braswell said. “Unfortunately, many of the answers we have for patients are ambiguous. I try to lean on what I am hearing from other patients and the latest research to inform people of the most up-to-date and accurate information. However, I always give a caveat that we are dealing with a new disease and are learning more every day.”

“Many of the people who have tested positive do not actually know how long their isolation period should be,” Wild said. “Also, I am commonly asked if it is necessary to get retested before leaving isolation.”

The answer? “It is not required if you have completed your 10-day isolation and your symptoms are gone,” Wild said. “But I have had many people tell me that they need to get retested before they can return to work.”

Several patients have confided in her about non-compliance at their work and how scared and frustrated they are, Wild says. “I do everything in my power to reach out to a higher authority when necessary, but I can’t help but feel angry for these people as well.”

Ultimately, many people want to ask the most basic question: Why are you calling me? “You would be surprised how few people know what contact tracing is,” Datnow-Martinez said. “We hear about it a lot at UAB, but we are usually calling people in rural or more isolated areas.”

Hearing the distress in patients’ voices and seeing firsthand how often those patients are people of color has convinced Datnow-Martinez to refocus her career plans.

“Before COVID, my research interest was contraceptive use in women, but now that has shifted to the huge disparities in Black and Hispanic populations that COVID-19 has brought to light,” she said. “There is a lot of work to be done in our health system.”

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit UAB’s COVID-19 website.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Nursing students, faculty answer call to serve in hospital to help fight COVID-19

(UAB/Contributed, YHN)

Editor’s Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB’s current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

More than 120 undergraduate, graduate and faculty members of the School of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will soon begin working in UAB Hospital to support the fight against COVID-19. The faculty and students are joining the frontline health care workers who have been caring for COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic.

UAB Hospital is currently short on nursing staff due to the spread of the illness and because of the intensive care the disease requires for each patient.

The nurses and students will help provide bedside care, as well as assist with the distribution of the vaccine.

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“As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in our community, we are grateful to be able to offer our academic-practice partner, UAB Hospital, assistance from UAB School of Nursing faculty and students to help with staffing issues resulting from the surge in patients and to help with COVID-19 vaccine administration,” said Doreen C. Harper, Ph.D., dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing, UAB School of Nursing. “Teams of highly qualified faculty and students will be providing care on units and working collaboratively with UAB Hospital staff to deliver safe, quality care to all patients. Historically, nurses have always answered the call — during World War II, other pandemics and the like — and again we are answering the call to meet the patient care needs of our community.”

Faculty and students received training last week and this week to refresh the skills needed to care for a patient with COVID-19, including learning how to safely put on and take off personal protective equipment and how to safely put patients in the proning position, which is the process of turning a patient from their back onto their stomach. The technique is especially beneficial to compromised COVID-19 patients with or without a ventilator, as it helps expand the back of the lungs.

The goal is not to replace the nurses in the hospital, but to support them.

“It is personal to me now,” said Summer Powers, DNP, a nurse practitioner and an assistant professor at the UAB School of Nursing. “I’ve been working alongside these nurses for a long time during all of this. They have been doing this for months. They are exhausted. It means a lot to me to be able to go and help our colleagues in this way. We aren’t rescuing them in any way, but we are supporting them.”

Of the more than 120 members of the School of Nursing who will begin working in the hospital, nearly 50 are faculty members, and more than 70 are undergraduate and graduate nursing students.

“I am so proud of the School of Nursing’s overwhelming faculty response to the COVID-19 surge and the call for help at UAB Hospital,” said Maria Shirey, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for Clinical and Global Partnerships in the School of Nursing. “This response is a reflection of our commitment to the tri-partite mission of teaching, research and practice and to our unique partnership between our school and UAB Hospital to address the health care needs of Alabamians.”

When Shirey and Powers emailed faculty and students to inform them of the need and identify interest in supporting the effort, the immediate response was not a surprise.

“It wasn’t, ‘Yes, I will serve.’ It was, ‘When can I start? I’m ready to go into the hospital today.’ Our students are eager for the opportunity to be able to do what they are being trained to do,” Powers said. “I feed off of the students’ energy. They have been really passionate about helping in some way, and now they feel like there is something they can do to help in this pandemic.”

Shirey adds the faculty had the same “can do” response.

The undergraduate students will serve as patient care technicians and will help with vaccine distribution. Faculty and graduate students, who are all licensed and trained registered nurses, will serve on patient care teams and provide bedside care in the hospital.

While the resounding yes to answer the call for help and additional hospital support are promising, Powers encourages the public to remain vigilant and practice the recommended safety guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Stay home. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. This is concerning to me. I’ve been in nursing a long time, and I’ve been at UAB for a long time. If a hospital like UAB is stressed to its resources and we are in crisis mode, I can only imagine what is going to happen in the community and beyond,” Powers said. “We are going to have facilities that cannot manage this. They are not going to be able to seek the level of care that we need. My message to everyone is please do your part while we are doing ours so we can get this pandemic under control.”

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit www.uab.edu/fightcovid19.

(Courtesy of UAB)

4 months ago

UAB epidemiologist answers questions about what to expect with coronavirus cases during the holidays

(UAB/YouTube)

The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States and in Alabama has increased over the past few weeks. With Thanksgiving and the December holidays around the corner, health care experts are urging people to continue to stay vigilant when it comes to reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, answers questions about the uptick in cases, what to expect when it comes to the number of cases over the holidays, what can be done to slow the spread, and how to stay safe and healthy while gathering with family.

What are we currently seeing in Alabama right now, and what should we expect to see when it comes to case numbers over the holidays?

There is a lot happening in the community and a lot that will happen over the course of the next few months. October was a beautiful month, and people could be outside and not inside their homes. We are also moving more into cooler weather months, and anytime people are together inside there is a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission.

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There have been events like Halloween and homecomings at schools where people have been getting together possibly more than they were previously, and there is a chance that COVID-19 is going to continue to increase based on what we’ve seen in the last two weeks. The cases have gone up across the state, particularly since August, when we saw a big boom in cases right when universities and schools started up. That settled down, and then in October we really started to see this increase that possibly was coming from the K-12 students getting back together from activities around school events.

How will the current number of cases impact what we see in the next few months?

Basically, what happens in the next two weeks really matters for how we will spend the first part of 2021 and possibly even the end of 2021. Cases that are occurring right now are cases that could be taken home at Thanksgiving when people get together with family and friends. Thanksgiving is a particularly problematic holiday because people get together inside, we share meals together, and we have a good time around the table with family and friends. This year, that is not nearly as safe as it has been in the past. Gatherings greater than 10 people pose a substantial risk in terms of one of the people being COVID-19-positive and not knowing. Combined with eating, drinking, socializing and laughing, it is something that could lead to substantial coronavirus transmission, which again sets us up for the holidays that come in December when people get back together in predominantly indoor spaces.

Now is a particularly challenging time, and we are asking people to be diligent. Continue to wear your masks, and keep gatherings small with fewer than 10 people when you are indoors. These efforts will help slow the transmission as we go through this holiday season.

College students will be going home for their Thanksgiving break in a few weeks. What are the concerns about their going home to their communities and possibly bringing the coronavirus to areas that have not been as affected as larger cities? What can they do to prevent bringing the virus home?

As students prepare to head home for their breaks, they should be very careful about their behavior in the 10 days leading up to going home. What you are doing those 10 days before you go home and whom you come into contact with are very important. If you are coming into contact with people you are not regularly around, you may become infected and not know it before you head home. It takes three to five days for you to become symptomatic and build up enough of the virus to spread it to others.

Students should avoid high-risk situations. These are gatherings with 10 or more people indoors, especially in places where people are raising their voices to talk, sing or shout. Any places where you have to raise your voice to be heard and are around others who do not have masks on are high-risk environments. I recommend avoiding high-risk settings 10 to 14 days before traveling home, especially if you are going to be around people who are at higher risk of suffering from COVID-19 complications.

How can people have a safe Thanksgiving gathering?

One way to have a safe Thanksgiving gathering is to do it outdoors if possible. If not, limit the number of people to 10 or fewer. If you are indoors, space people out so they are not eating right next to each other. If you can keep people 6 feet apart, that is the best-case scenario. If indoors, open up windows so there is more ventilation. If you have a larger group or do not have room for people to eat at once 6 feet apart, try eating in shifts.

It’s important to remember that you are gathering with the people you love most in your life. You’re going to be laughing and you’re going to be carrying on, and that just leads to excess production of fluid from your mouth and nose as you get excited when you’re talking. If those fluids happen to land on someone’s plate and you are infectious, that is how COVID-19 is spread. This is why it is necessary to keep people apart and distanced. Finally, wash your hands and make sure your loved ones are also washing their hands. Keep hand sanitizer out, and make sure others are practicing safe hand hygiene.

Is there such a thing as “testing out of quarantine,” and what should you do if you are told to quarantine?

There is no way to test out of quarantine. Let’s say that you were told you were exposed because you were in close contact with somebody who tested positive — that means you were less than 6 feet away from that person for more than 15 minutes. That is considered a close contact and means you have been exposed. No matter what the test says, you have to stay home for 14 days. Even if the test is negative and you feel fine, you must stay home during that time period to prevent it from spreading to others.

If you’ve been told you need to quarantine, that means you need to quarantine for 14 days from the time of exposure. It is absolutely critical that you stay home during that time. This is so you do not infect anyone else.

Do you think there is a chance there will be new stay-at-home orders in the United States?

There is always a possible scenario in which we could see different counties or states having to ramp back up and issue more of a stay-at-home model. This is a really serious infectious disease, and if it hits vulnerable populations like older people or if the virus mutates, it could lead to additional stay-at-home orders. Today the virus is predominantly lethal for people over the age of 80. However, viruses change, and there is nothing to say that it couldn’t change and impact young people. This is why we very carefully monitor the virus and monitor how many people have COVID-19 and die from it. We want to understand the impact of it and give that information to our governmental leaders so they can decide the best way to protect the public.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham)

9 months ago

Study aims to determine the number of undetected COVID-19 cases in the United States

(UAB/Contributed, YHN)

A study led by the National Institutes of Health, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Pittsburgh will examine how many adults in the United States have been infected by the novel coronavirus but did not know they had it. Researchers will analyze blood samples from 10,000 adults to see if they have the antibodies to the virus, which indicates a prior infection.

The results will demonstrate where the novel coronavirus has spread undetected in the United States and provide insights into the types of populations that are most affected.

“To understand the seroprevalence of antibodies is really important for developing our public health approaches to helping to manage the pandemic,” said Robert Kimberly, M.D., the study’s principal investigator and the director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UAB. “It is a way to begin to understand the biology of the human response to COVID-19. We do not know whether COVID-19 is brand-new or whether it has been around for a while.”

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The 10,000 volunteers who are participating in the study are made up of adults of all ages from across the country. However, researchers are slightly oversampling in geographical areas and in populations that have been most affected by the virus.

“We are trying to get a snapshot of what is happening in the population in general, as well as the populations that appear to be most at risk,” said Eric Ford, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers and a professor at the UAB School of Public Health.

Each participant, after confirming they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19, are healthy and do not have any symptoms, will be sent a test kit that contains a finger stick to provide a blood sample. The sample will be sent back to the NIH, where it will be processed to find out if that individual has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The data from the study will also help researchers understand herd immunity.

“We are trying to understand where there are antibodies even when people are not aware that they have had COVID-19,” said Jennifer Croker, Ph.D., one of the study’s lead researchers and assistant professor of medicine at UAB. “We would like to do future samplings to find out more about who has the antibodies. This is the first step in understanding herd immunity.

“Absent a vaccine, we want to reach herd immunity. For most diseases, 50 percent of the population needs to have been exposed; but with the infection rate of COVID-19, 65 to 70 percent of the population needs to be exposed to build up herd immunity,” Ford explained.

Kimberly says the study came together within a matter of weeks and is a result of the partnerships between the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the School of Public Health, and the School of Medicine.

“I have never seen a study go from concept to grant to full written approval in this amount of time,” Kimberly said. “The rapidity with which we were able to get it together and get the formal proposal to the NIH, while also receiving all internal approvals, represented multiple facets of the university’s coming together and working as a team.”

Researchers hope to have a better understanding of the number of people who have been infected without knowing it by the end of the summer.

(Courtesy of UAB)

10 months ago

The state has reopened — what does that mean for me?

(Alabama Retail Association/Facebook, YHN)

Alabama has started to reopen, but does that mean the risk of contracting COVID-19 has been eliminated? Epidemiologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health answer questions about what reopening the state means, the impact it may have on people in urban and rural areas, what will happen to prevent the spread, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Does this mean COVID-19 is gone?

The answer is no, according to epidemiologists Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biostatistics, Bertha Hidalgo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Cora E. Lewis, M.D., MSPH, chair of the Department of Epidemiology. As of May 12, there were more than 10,000 cases in the state of Alabama.

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“Because we know that COVID-19 can be spread even by people who aren’t feeling sick, and because we’ve only tested about 2.7 percent of Alabamians, there are probably far more cases that we don’t know about,” Judd said. “Approximately how many? Well, studies conducted in Florida, New York and California suggest that the actual number of cases is probably six times the number of documented cases.”

That means, in Alabama, there might be approximately 41,200 COVID-19 positive infections. While that is less than 1 percent of the total population in Alabama, it means there are plenty of people who could spread the virus. This means that many more people could become sick in the upcoming months.

Since COVID-19 is still out there, how will we work to prevent people from getting the virus once businesses begin to reopen?

There are many strategies that can help you stay healthy while COVID-19 is still circulating:

  • Wash your hands before you eat, wipe your eyes, blow your nose, bite your nails — basically wash your hands before you touch your face.
  • Do not touch your face. When you leave home, keep your hands off your face.
  • Try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others where possible. Respect others’ space so that, if they or you do accidentally sneeze or cough, there will be less risk of spreading the virus.
  • Wear a face mask while in public. It is important for you to wear a face mask at all times in case you are a silent carrier. Silent carriers are people who have the virus that causes COVID-19, but do not know they are sick. Because you do not know who is sick, you have to assume everyone is sick, and live life accordingly.
  • If you are sick, stay home. Even if you think it is just a cold, it could be COVID-19 because some of the symptoms are the same. Work with your employer to develop a plan so that you do not have to come into your workplace. If that is not possible, be sure you wear a face mask whenever you are feeling unwell.
  • If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out, and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days.

Is it OK to see family and friends in person now?

According to Hidalgo, it is best not to do so, especially if friends and family fall into high risk categories for COVID-19.

“We recognize that people are eager to see their friends and family. Our infection and death counts have not decreased, which means that our risk for infection and infecting others remains as high as it was before stay-at-home orders went into effect,” Hidalgo said. “If you have family members who are considered high risk, it is very important to continue physical distancing.”

People with higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections are those who have:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Kidney disease and on dialysis
  • Severe obesity
  • People age 65 years old and older
  • People in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Liver disease

More information about high-risk groups can be found on the CDC website.

Will guidelines be different depending on if you live in a rural or urban area?

Whether you live in an urban or rural area, public health recommendations continue to be to maintain a distance of 6 feet whenever possible, covering your face when in public and frequent handwashing.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance between you and others may be challenging in certain locations within urban areas simply because there are more people. However, just because there are fewer people in rural areas does not mean that COVID-19 will not spread in all areas. It is important to be very careful, no matter where you live. Physical distancing is especially important to consider in the context of gatherings, and especially in enclosed spaces. Close interactions with others is how the virus spreads most easily.” Hidalgo explained.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is the process that health departments use to identify who has been exposed to an infectious disease like COVID-19.

“This is a vital part of our public health system and is routinely done during outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases like measles or the novel coronavirus,” Judd said.

How will I know if I can trust the information if someone calls or texts me to say I have been in contact with someone with COVID-19?

An employee or volunteer from the health department will interview a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and ask them where they have been in the past 10 to 14 days and with whom they have had contact. The health department staff member will then call, text or write to each of those people who have had contact with the person with COVID-19. The purpose of this is to let the person know they may have been exposed so they can self-quarantine for 14 days.

“According to the Alabama Department of Health, investigators will never ask for social security numbers or money, or try to sell products, which is what many scammers will do,” Hidalgo said. “If patients live in Jefferson County or Mobile County, they will be contacted by someone from

those health departments, and not the ADPH.”

This means that you will likely be contacted by someone from your local health department.

Hidalgo adds that you should never give someone your social security number, send money, or buy any products if you get a call related to COVID-19.

“When someone you do not know calls and begins to ask you questions about where you have been and tells you that you may have been exposed to a virus, it can be scary,” Hidalgo said.

Follow these steps to make sure you are receiving accurate information:

  • Ask the person to provide identification about who they are and why they are calling.
  • You can also ask to be provided with official documentation about who they are and why they are calling you.
  • When in doubt, call the health department directly and ask if the person who called you is working for them as a contact tracer.

What do I do if I have been contacted by a contact tracer?

If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, you will be advised to stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out, and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days. If you become ill, seek a COVID-19 test. You should also consider reporting your symptoms in the UAB COVID-19 symptom tracker.

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit uab.edu/coronavirus.

(Courtesy of UAB)

11 months ago

How to safely grocery shop during the coronavirus pandemic

(UAB/Contributed, YHN)

The novel coronavirus has changed many aspects of our day-to-day lives, including trips to the grocery store. Instead of popping by the supermarket to grab what you need for tonight’s dinner, many are now second-guessing their trips and wondering whether it is even safe to go into a store and be exposed, not only to other people, but also to items that may have been touched by several others.

Mirjam-Colette Kempf, Ph.D., MPH, an infectious diseases expert and a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, explains what to do to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus before, during and after your trip to the store.

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(UAB/Contributed)

Before you go to the store

The most important thing to do before you go to the store is evaluate whether you even have to make the trip.

“You should go to the store only for essential items that you cannot live without in the moment,” Kempf said.

If you are considered high-risk due to your age or if you are immunocompromised, Kempf recommends having your groceries delivered or asking a family member or neighbor to pick up your groceries for you on their next trip to the store.

If those options are not available but you still need to buy groceries, try going during special hours set aside for senior citizens and those who are immunocompromised.

For people who are not high-risk but still need to buy groceries, making a list beforehand is an important step.

“You should try to minimize your time in a grocery store. One way to do this is to make a list so you know what you want. This will reduce the time that you are walking around looking for various items.”

Kempf adds that you should plan to buy the groceries you need for the next two weeks to limit the number of trips you make to the store.

Protect yourself and others while grocery shopping

Once you arrive at the store, grab a wipe, if it is available, or use your own to wipe down the cart or basket, especially around the handles.

Some stores are allowing only a certain number of people inside at a time; but even if your store is not doing this, it is important to practice physical distancing from other customers.

“Be patient, and give others their space. If someone else is in front of the product you want, wait for them to leave, and make sure you are staying 6 feet away from others.”

Grocery Shopping in the Time of COVID-19

  • When you shop, please do not hoard. Shop for food thinking about what you need for the next week or, at most, two.
  • Buy fresh meats that you can eat over the next few days. If you have a good amount of freezer space, use it.
  • Buy protein sources that last when you do not have fresh meat. Cheese, eggs, canned and pouch tuna, and salmon are all great complete, high-quality proteins. Starchy beans when paired with rice also make a high-quality protein. Peanut butter is also a great protein that when paired with a grain (a peanut butter sandwich) is a complete, high-quality protein.
  • Some fresh vegetables and fruits last a lot longer than others. Grapes, apples, carrots and potatoes stay fresher longer than lettuce and berries.
  • Buy frozen and canned fruits and vegetables for when you run out of fresh.

When checking out, put your credit card or money in a pocket or somewhere that is easily accessible so that you do not have to search in your purse and touch other items.

If you have to use a touchpad or pen or accept change, use hand sanitizer or a wipe to clean your hands after putting those items away.

As for reusable bags, Kempf says it is safe to keep using them, as long as you wipe the bags down, especially on the outside, after each use.

Once you get home from the store

When you get home from the store, the first step is to wash your hands after you bring your groceries in, but before you unpack them.

Kempf recommends setting up a sanitation station somewhere in your house, where you can wipe down the groceries with anti-bacterial wipes. It is important to do this before you put your groceries away.

“After you’ve washed your hands, wiped off your groceries and put them away, wash your hands again,” Kempf added.

If you wore a facemask to the store, make sure to wash your hands after taking it off, and do not touch your face until you have clean hands.

For produce, you should continue to wash items before you eat, as you would do on a regular basis. Kempf says you do not need to wash your produce before you put it in the refrigerator.

For more information about protecting yourself and your family from the novel coronavirus, visit UAB’s coronavirus website.

(Courtesy of UAB)

11 months ago

How long does the novel coronavirus live on different surfaces?

(UAB/Contributed, YHN)

People are staying home to avoid the novel coronavirus, but it may linger on commonly used surfaces for longer than you think. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine examined how long the novel coronavirus can live in the air and on certain surfaces. A virologist and an infectious diseases physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham break down what the study found and explain how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

The study looked at how long the virus can live in the air, and on plastic, copper, stainless steel and cardboard.

“The virus was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than cardboard,” said Todd Green, Ph.D., a virologist and an associate professor in UAB’s Department of Microbiology. “Viable virus was detected for up to three days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces. While on copper, no viable virus was measured after four hours or on cardboard after 24 hours.”

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According to Green, the study found that the amount of virus decreased rapidly over time on each of those surfaces, which means the risk of infection would likely decrease over time as well.

In the air, the half-life of the virus is about one hour; but in a three-hour period, researchers could still measure viable virus in the air.

(UAB/Contributed)

“There are several factors that would determine whether or not the timeframes in the study are accurate in a given situation,” Green explained. “Humidity and temperature are some factors that would impact the viability of the virus. Also, if you are outside or if you are walking, factors like wind and other forces could cause the virus to fall to the ground or on a surface.”

Green says the amount of time the virus is viable will increase or decrease based on the quantity of the virus and the temperature and humidity levels it is exposed to.

“The higher the temperature and humidity level, the less viable the virus will be over time,” Green said. “However, precise studies with those variables remain to be done.”

While people are less likely to become infected by touching a contaminated surface than they are by being exposed to someone with the virus, it is important to practice preventive measures.

“Packages will be coming from a number of hands, and you might not know the symptom status of everyone who touched it along the way,” said Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., assistant professor in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “Wash your hands after opening and handling the package. That will kill the germs.”

You should also clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces with isopropyl alcohol, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, and cover your mouth with a tissue or a sleeve when you cough or sneeze.

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit www.uab.edu/coronavirus.

(Courtesy of UAB)

12 months ago

Community members train doctors on culturally appropriate palliative care

(UAB/Contributed)

Four palliative care doctors, two researchers and several community members gathered in Beaufort, South Carolina, in late August to gain insight into the history and culture of two rural Southern communities, White and African American, and to understand the cultural values and preferences of each of these two ethnic groups in caring for patients with serious illness.

Culture shapes how people make meaning out of illness, suffering and dying, and it influences their responses to diagnosis, prognosis and treatment preferences. Lack of respect for cultural differences may compromise care for seriously ill minority patients. However, culturally appropriate models of palliative care are not currently available.

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Until now, there was no such thing as culturally based protocol for patients with serious illness or for end of life care, until this team of community members developed one for rural southern African Americans and another for Whites,” said Ronit Elk, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

For three and a half years, Elk and her colleagues worked with teams of White and African American community advisory board members to create this culturally based protocol. It was determined after focus groups held with community members who had been a caregiver to a loved one who had recently died.

“I started with the focus group six weeks after my husband passed away,” said Jonnie Grant, a member of the group. “I was a newly widowed person who was not knowing where to go or what to do.”

Gardenia Simmons-White, a member of the community advisory board, said working with the advisory group and learning of each other’s beliefs helped them create the protocol and form a mutual respect for each other’s cultures.

“When you take care of people, you care for people of all different nationalities and beliefs. You have to understand that everyone has different beliefs,” Simmons-White said. “You have to understand that everyone’s culture is different, and it is especially true of how African Americans and Caucasians react to end of life diagnoses. We need to know each other’s cultures in order to ask questions and not have stereotypical beliefs. And we need to understand our history in order to have respect.”

This unusual gathering was part of a training program conducted by the community members to prepare the palliative care physicians for a randomized clinical trial in which the efficacy of this community-developed and culturally based protocol will be tested. This trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health and co-led by Elk and Marie Bakitas, DNSc, of the UAB School of Nursing, will compare the culturally based palliative care consult program provided through telehealth, in addition to regular care. They will compare the findings to patients receiving regular care to see if it helps reduce patient suffering, increases the quality of life for the patient and family, and reduces the burden of care for caregivers.

The study began patient recruitment in January and will take place in three rural hospitals in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The training program

The training program by the community members of the four palliative care physicians, Rodney Tucker, M.D., and Susan McCammon, M.D., from UAB, Josh Hauser, M.D., from Northwestern University in Chicago, and Jacob Graham, M.D., from Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, included an in-depth review by the community advisory board members of the ethnic-group specific protocol, with an explanation of the cultural values underlying each of these.

“When you talk about life-threatening issues, it is good to include the pastor in the conversation,” said Pastor Michael Williams, a community advisory board member, referring to African American patients. “It’s because of faith, because of prayer and the pastor being there, that things will get better.”

Role play, a commonly used teaching strategy, was also a part of the training program. But this time, it was the community members who critiqued the physicians, telling them how they felt after they were spoken to about their goals of care conversations, or one about a serious and/or terminal prognosis.

“Patients and their families are really our most generous teachers. We think of ourselves as teachers, but when I think of the work that I get to do as a doctor, it is the patient and the family members that do the teaching,” Hauser said. “I always tell my residents and fellows that the most important teachers we have are the patients, the caregivers and people like you on the community advisory group.”

Visiting historic sites

In addition to the training program, the group visited two historic sites in South Carolina, each of which had an important historical meaning to each ethnic group. Old Sheldon Church Ruins, a famous red-stone church, twice burned down, the first time during the Civil War. Now a relic, it sits among green lawns and palm trees, with a scattering of 50 graves, some of which were used as an operating table during that war.

The next stop was to the Penn Center on Saint Helena’s Island, the site of the nation’s first school for formerly enslaved people. Simmons-White led the tour, and the group learned that it was the first school in the South for freed slaves and the center’s role in the civil rights movement.

“Our history was not written into the history books,” Simmons-White explained. “We need to know the significance of what we brought to our culture here. It is always good to know each other’s history because then you can respect them more.”

These visits provided meaningful insight for the clinicians, too.

“I can say visiting the Penn Center has continued to open my eyes to the cultural journey of the individuals for which I care for,” Tucker said. “It is important for me to understand their history, to understand their values, and their lived experience as we move forward with their care.”

“It would be too easy to focus on the nuts and bolts of the training for the protocol itself, but I think going to the Sheldon Church and the Penn Center, was incredibly rich, but the richness extends to the fact that you and this group acknowledge how important that historical context is,” McCammon said. “Everything we are doing now grew out of that history – the good and the bad and what we need to do today to make it better and better serve our patients.”

Impressions of the training

The physicians’ time and respect were the most meaningful part of the experience to several of the community members.

“I think it was important for the physicians to see how the local members of the community advisory group have embraced the concept of palliative care and that all as former caregivers, they had a personal experience of dealing with a very ill loved one,” said Cynthia Coburn-Smith, one of the community advisory group members. “It was wonderful to see the physicians get involved in role playing in the retreat. We went over the cultural training protocol we developed with Dr. Elk with the physicians, and we answered their questions on why these issues were important to us.”

One concern was unrealized by one of the members.

“One of my fears was that the doctors were going to come in with their attitudes, and they didn’t,” Grant said. “I hope that your memories, and I know that mine, will be cherished and, hopefully, we will be able to continue this relationship that we started and be able to do this in the future.”

To the doctors, it was just as worthwhile.

“It is validating for the things that we know, and how we can improve. You started it, and we will continue the next steps,” Tucker said. “If we gather together in another 10 years, I hope there are thousands of physicians outside of us that begin to realize culturally appropriate conversations are so important and not just for end of life or serious illness, but from the very start.”

“We’ve been at it for so many years,” Elk said. “When I think about how everybody came to all of the meetings, everybody still has their books, everyone has been committed to it through all of these years writing the protocol. For me, what we’ve accomplished is beyond a fantasy.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

UAB Medicine recognized as Age-Friendly Health System

(Holly Gainer/UAB)

University of Alabama at Birmingham Medicine has been recognized as an Age-Friendly Health System by The John A. Hartford Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. UAB is the only hospital in Alabama to receive this recognition.

UAB Medicine joins more than 100 health systems acknowledged as working to make high-quality care for older adults even more tailored to patients’ goals and preferences.

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“Older adults should receive safe, high-quality health care that centers around their unique needs. By incorporating the Age-Friendly Initiatives into our system, UAB is training health care providers on evidence-based strategies for caring for older adults,” said Emily Simmons, MSN, nursing professional development specialist for UAB’s Nurses Improving Care for Health System Elders program. “Many of these health care providers later transition to new sites of care throughout Alabama, which means we are impacting care at UAB and throughout the state.”

The Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative is based on a series of practices focused on addressing four elements of care for older patients:

  • What Matters: Know and align care with each older adult’s specific health outcome goals and care preferences, including, but not limited to, end-of-life care, and across settings of care.
  • Medication: If medication is necessary, use Age-Friendly medications that do not interfere with what matters to the older adult, mobility or mentation across settings of care.
  • Mentation: Prevent, identify, treat and manage dementia, depression and delirium across settings of care.
  • Mobility: Ensure that older adults move safely every day in order to maintain function and do what matters.

The Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care in the UAB School of Medicine created Alabama’s first Acute Care for Elders Unit, which is a model of inpatient geriatric care. The ACE Unit focuses on maintaining patient function by utilizing an interdisciplinary care team trained in geriatrics to aggressively manage geriatric syndromes while a hospitalist physician manages each patient’s acute medical diagnosis. The unit is at UAB Highlands; however, the ACE method is being implemented in other areas of the health system through various geriatric-specific initiatives.

UAB is also home to the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging, which is a university-wide interdisciplinary center. Its mission is to promote the health and well-being of older adults and their families through research, education and outreach initiatives.

The goal of the initiative is to make 20% of hospitals and health systems in the United States age-friendly by 2020. For more information, visit the Institute for Healthcare Improvement website.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Study aims to learn why people in rural South are less healthy, die sooner

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Why people in rural communities in the South live shorter and less healthy lives than those who reside elsewhere in the United States is the focus of a new national study that will be based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal (RURAL) Study will allow researchers to learn what causes the high burden of heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

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“The purpose of this study is to understand whether living in the rural South equates to more health-related issues,” said Shauntice Allen, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the UAB School of Public Health. “The rural South matters to the entire country. When the rural South hurts, the entire country does. It’s important to understand the reasons and potential causes of chronic health issues in rural areas.”

With funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, this six-year, $21.4 million multisite prospective cohort study will include 50 investigators from 15 other institutions.

To better understand why certain factors amplify risk in some rural counties and what renders some communities more resilient, the researchers will be recruiting and studying 4,000 multi-ethnic participants from 10 of the most economically disadvantaged rural counties in the South.

“The truly exciting thing about this research is we are working with multiple investigators from across the Southeast to develop and maintain community engagement in addition to participant engagement,” said Suzanna Judd, co-principal investigator of the study and a professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the UAB School of Public Health. “We are looking to go beyond a simple epidemiological study to do more than simply observe a population.”

To accomplish this, researchers will build a mobile clinic to provide the medical exams on study participants in their counties. Familial, lifestyle and behavioral factors, along with medical history including risk for heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders, will be recorded. Environmental and economic factors will also be studied. UAB will be in charge of building the mobile clinic.

“This clinic will bring technology to rural communities that might not have ready access to specific types of diagnostic tests,” Judd said. “This is an engineering challenge, a community engagement challenge and a disease prevention challenge, which makes it incredibly exciting.”

“UAB is a major stakeholder in the state of Alabama,” Allen explained. “Access to quality care, educational opportunities and employment are all things anyone would want their family to have. Access is a significant issue in rural communities. Bringing accessible health screenings to rural areas is important.”

In addition to UAB, investigators from the University of Louisville, Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center and University of Mississippi Medical Center will play a central role in participant recruitment, retention, follow-up, data return, return of results, community engagement and education. The study’s coordinating center is Boston University School of Medicine.

Recruitment in Alabama will begin next year. For more information, visit the RURAL Study website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Diet biggest factor in African-Americans’ greater risk of high blood pressure

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Diet is the predominant factor explaining why more African-Americans develop high blood pressure than their white counterparts, according to a national study led by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

After analyzing nearly 7,000 adults, researchers identified factors that help explain why African-Americans have a higher risk of hypertension than whites. The leading factor to explain the difference is eating a Southern-style diet, which is high in fried and processed foods. The other key factors are salt intake and level of education.

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Based on nationwide data from the UAB School of Public Health, the study was published Oct. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lead author George Howard, doctor of Public Health and professor of biostatistics, said the most significant part of the study is it identifies lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce the higher risk of hypertension in African-Americans. Hypertension is the main reason they are at higher risk of stroke and heart attacks, and one of the main reasons African-Americans have a shorter life expectancy.

“Hypertension is the single biggest contributor to racial disparities in cardiovascular disease,” Howard said. “Preventing hypertension is a critical piece of reducing health disparities in cardiovascular disease. This work identifies factors contributing to the development of high blood pressure and how they differ between African-Americans and white Americans.”

Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the largest contributor to the mortality difference between the black and white populations of the United States, accounting for 34 percent of the difference in years of life lost, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey.

“Life expectancy is about four years shorter in African-Americans compared to whites, and a driving force of life expectancy differences is cardiovascular diseases,” Howard said. “The higher risk of hypertension in African-Americans plays a central role in this problem. Not only does hypertension have a direct impact on racial disparities, it also drives the disparities in stroke and heart-related conditions.”

The researchers analyzed 6,897 participants from across the nation over a period of nearly 9.5 years; 1,807 were black and 5,090 were white. The participants are all part of the REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study, a federally funded effort based at UAB. The participants were interviewed by telephone, and then a health professional went to their homes and took measurements, including blood pressure, weight, height and waist. The participants answered questions about their health and completed questionnaires measuring their diets.

Twelve potential factors were studied for their relationship with the development of hypertension in blacks compared to whites. For both men and women, the biggest factor explaining the difference in the risk of developing high blood pressure between African-Americans and whites was eating a Southern-style diet. This is a dietary pattern high in fried foods, including fried fish, chicken and potatoes. It also contains sweetened beverages and processed foods. Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist in UAB’s School of Public Health, is one of the investigators who first identified this eating pattern.

“This diet likely contributes to excess hypertension due to higher sodium intake, but it is impossible to guess at which component of this dietary pattern is the ‘silver bullet,’” Judd said. “Likely it could be all of the foods eaten together. The combination of a high-sodium diet with excess calories from fat and sugar and limited beneficial foods containing anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals probably creates the perfect storm to make this diet less healthy.”

The study found there are similar and varying factors for men and women.

“The other important factors for both men and women are salt intake and education,” Howard said. “For women, the other factors are obesity and larger waist size. We know obesity is related to the development of hypertension in both men and women, but we didn’t know that it contributed differently in men and women to the racial difference in hypertension. We now know that obesity helps to explain the racial disparities between black and white women.”

Howard hopes the findings will help guide efforts to reduce the “extra” risk of hypertension in African-Americans, and this may help to reduce the extra risk of stroke and heart attack, and to reduce the shorter life expectancy in African-Americans.

“The best way to treat high blood pressure is to prevent it,” Howard said. “This study points to lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce the black-white difference in hypertension, which will in turn reduce the racial disparities in cardiovascular disease.”

The study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The other study authors are Suzanne Oparil, M.D., Paul Muntner, Ph.D., Virginia G. Wadley, Ph.D., Leann Long, Ph.D., and Virginia Howard, Ph.D, all from UAB; as well as Mary Cushman, M.D., University of Vermont School of Medicine; Claudia S. Moy, Ph.D., National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health; Daniel T. Lackland, Medical University of South Carolina; Jennifer J. Manly, Ph.D., Columbia University; and Matthew L. Flaherty, M.D., University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)