TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – Public health workers met on Wednesday to learn about various pathogens and what coordination efforts to pursue in the event of a disease outbreak.

This is the fourth year the workshops have been held, which are designed to help improve response from health professionals and to get area agencies on the same page, said Nelson Long, public health preparedness planner with South Central Public Health District

Between 40 and 50 people were at the workshop Wednesday morning, held at the College of Southern Idaho Health Sciences & Human Services building, with further classes held throughout the day.

The training – titled “Operation Special Pathogens: A Coordinated Community Response” – took Ebola as a main theme, though a number of other diseases were discussed.

“We wanted to do something different this year,” Long said. “So, we decided to talk about Ebola, Hepatitis A and other pathogens.”

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Health professionals know all too well that diseases reported in faraway countries can easily spread and find their way closer to home.

An 18-month-old child was infected with Ebola in a small Guinea village five years ago, for instance, but since then the disease has spread to seven countries and more than 28,000 people. Of that number, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11,000 have died from the disease, including a nurse in the U.S.

“Although there are no current Ebola cases in Idaho, we continue to face other deadly epidemics like the flu and Hepatitis A,” Tanis Maxwell, an epidemiologist with SCPHD, said in a prepared statement released before the Wednesday training. “It's important to plan and be prepared.”

A few health professionals from other states came to the workshops to share their expertise, such as Ted Cieslak, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As one of several presenters, Cieslak discussed various pathogens, many that are not a concern in the U.S. right now but that could become concerns in the future.

He said before his presentation that he wanted to get input from the various local agencies about what pathogen topics they’d like to focus on. Some diseases on his list included the Marburg virus, which is seen in Africa and some European countries; Lassa fever, a viral hemorrhage disease found in Nigeria; and SARS, for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; and MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, primarily found in the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula.

Any one of them could come to the mainland when a citizen returns home after visiting overseas, Cieslak said.

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The Ebola Disease Virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what now is the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, according to the CDC, is “a rare, but severe and often deadly disease.” It shares many of the same symptoms as other diseases, including influenza, which is the more immediate concern in Idaho.

Maxwell said the flu season in Idaho typically begins in October and runs through about March, though it can start earlier and last longer. She said it is still too early to forecast this season, but stressed that if a person gets the virus it’s best to follow tried-and-true steps to help prevent it from spreading: wash hands frequently, cover coughs, stay home from work or school when sick.

Because other diseases mimic the flu, such as Ebola or even whooping cough, it is important that people get vaccinated, said Brianna Bodily, public information officer with SCPHD. That way if a person has flu-like symptoms but had a flu shot, he or she knows it could be something else and should see a doctor.

Often, people wait to get vaccinated until they hear about friends or neighbors getting sick, but Bodily said it’s important to get a flu shot early in the season because, depending on the person, it could take a while for the vaccine to take effect. Typically, younger people respond to flu shots quicker than older people.

“It’s important to get vaccinated before the flu becomes a problem,” she said.