The coronavirus outbreak: what Birmingham residents need to know

Confirmed global cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus as of January 28, 2020. Photo via the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak is causing worry across the globe. As of January 28, 2020, five cases of this virus have been reported in the U.S., with none in Birmingham. 

What’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, is a new coronavirus that causes respiratory illness in affected patients. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath 

According to Dr. Wesley Willeford, medical director of disease control at the Jefferson County Department of Health in Birmingham, Alabama, “This looks a lot like influenza, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and a host of other viruses that circulate in our community.” 

However, Dr. Willeford said it’s important to note that unless you have traveled to Wuhan, China recently, the symptoms above are most likely the result of the usual viruses that circulate this time of year—not the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. 

Where is the virus currently?


States with confirmed 2019 Novel Coronavirus as of January 28, 2020. Photo via the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website

Although there are more than one thousand confirmed cases of the virus in China, just a handful have been reported in the U.S. Zero cases have been reported in Jefferson County, AL. 

Tips for Prevention

A key way to prevent the spread of illness? Good old hand washing. Photo via iStock

Unless you have traveled to Wuhan, China, since December 1, 2019, you likely will not come into contact with the virus. As for prevention, Dr. Willeford recommends hand washing with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. The CDC also advises avoiding nonessential travel to China at this time. 

A More Likely Risk in Birmingham: the Flu

Get that flu shot! Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now 

Dr. Willeford said that although the coronavirus doesn’t pose much of a threat to residents in Birmingham, Jefferson County continues to see high levels of influenza (flu) activity. 

For perspective, the current number of deaths reported due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is 107, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 8,200-20,000 people in the United States have died of the flu this year.

All people age six months and older should get a flu shot if they haven’t already. 

“While the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a new and developing situation, influenza continues to pose a grave threat to the wellness and productivity of our population, and influenza is definitely here and at high levels. We advise that people acquire their influenza vaccine if they have not already and we advise people to not work while ill to slow the spread of the disease.”

Wesley Willeford, medical director of disease control at the Jefferson County Department of Health

What if this coronavirus reaches Jefferson County?

Jefferson County Department of Health. Photo via Wikimedia

Again, it’s unlikely that a person in Alabama will be at risk for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus unless they’ve traveled to Wuhan, China since December 1, 2019.

However, the Jefferson County Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control has a response plan in place to identify and monitor a positive case, perform contact tracing for that person, and to monitor all known contacts for development of disease. 

“We will continue to monitor diligently and be ready to mobilize our workforce in the event of a positive case.” 

Dr. Wesley Willeford, medical director of disease control at the Jefferson County Department of Health

For the latest on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, go to the CDC website