The current Ebola outbreak -- the largest-ever -- is centered in West Africa, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week confirmed the first U.S.-diagnosed case.
It's travel related. The patient is from Liberia and began showing symptoms several days after arriving in the states. He's being treated in Texas.
While the possibility of the Tri-Cities seeing an Ebola case is relatively remote, the area's top public health official said "our local area is prepared." Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District, said the community has plans in place for dealing with events such as an infectious disease outbreak.
And the U.S. health system is better-equipped to deal with an illness like Ebola, she said, noting the precautions needed to prevent its spread -- like wearing gloves and masks -- already are standard at hospitals in the Tri-Cities and around the country. Health officials also know to be asking additional screening questions, she said.
Officials from the local hospitals said they're keeping tabs on the epidemic and sharing information with staff. At Trios Health, for example, a small task force has convened to ensure preparedness in the event of a case, with special emphasis on "listening carefully to patients talking as they describe their symptoms and questioning rigorously about recent travel history," said spokeswoman Lisa Teske.
Person said it's good for the public to be informed about Ebola and the outbreak.
But, "while people may worry about things they see in the news," they should also remember to take steps to protect against more common illnesses -- like the flu -- that are more likely to cause them problems.
That means, for example, covering coughs, washing hands and getting flu shots, she said.
The CDC's resource page on Ebola can be found at www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola.