GIBSONIA — The United States only has had a handful of Ebola cases, but regional officials want to make sure the Pittsburgh area is prepared to handle the deadly virus.
Six local, state, regional and health officials gathered at St. Barnabas on Thursday night to talk about Ebola and what people in Western Pennsylvania can do to protect themselves.
The panel included Amesh Adalja, a nationally known doctor who is a Butler native who works with UPMC’s Center for Health Security.
Other panelists included Pennsylvania’s physician general, the director of the Allegheny County Health Department, a neurosurgeon with UPMC and an expert on infectious diseases at UPMC.
The seminar at the Kean Theater attracted more than 100 residents.
Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the risk to contract Ebola “isn’t particularly high” in Western Pennsylvania. But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be prepared for the worst case scenario if someone unknowingly brings the virus here.
“As long as there’s an epidemic in Africa, our country is likely to see additional cases,” she said.
Hacker said she and her office have prepared by doing mandatory screenings of anyone who’s traveled to the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Mali.
Adalja echoed that same sentiment and said as long as the disease is still in Africa, it poses a risk to people around the world because of how quickly it can spread.
“This outbreak is still raging in West Africa,” he said. “Even though there’s been glimmers of hope in places like Liberia, a new country (Mali) just got added to the list.”
Amy Hartman, an expert on infectious diseases with the University of Pittsburgh, said she wanted to come to the seminar to help people get past the myths and misconceptions surrounding Ebola.
“There are some pretty basic facts being misconstrued,” she said. “Now that the media storm has calmed down we can present some factual data.”
Robin Taylor, a spokesman for St. Barnabas, said the organization jumped at the chance to host the seminar, if only for the fact that it provided an opportunity to educate and inform people about a virus that isn’t widely understood.
“We’re in the health care field, and we as health care professionals need to be prepared,” she said about St. Barnabas. “But this is also something the public needs to know about and get accurate information about.