No Ebola in Manatee, but a flu shot not a bad idea, officials say

MANATEE -- The head of the Manatee County Department of Health said Thursday getting a flu shot is not a bad idea in a year in which the deadly Ebola virus made its U.S. debut.

Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator for Florida Department of Health in Manatee County, said she is not suggesting residents need to worry about Ebola -- she confirmed the disease is not in Manatee or the state of Florida -- and odds are great it won't ever be.

She did advise getting a flu shot and routinely washing hands as two actions residents can take to be proactive about Ebola or any other virus.

"Keeping your immune system up is what I would recommend right now," said Bencie during a press conference on the Ebola virus Thursday at Manatee County Emergency Operations Center, 2107 47th Terrace E.

"A flu shot can do the trick," Bencie added. "You should also try to keep others well by sneezing and coughing into your arm and staying home if you get sick."

Bencie and roughly 80 Manatee County officials, ranging from health care, law enforcement, fire departments and municipalities met at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center to discuss Ebola preparations.

Officials are watching it closely, said Bencie, who was joined at a 3:30 p.m. press briefing by Public Safety Director Ron Koper , Vernon DeSear of Manatee Memorial Hospital and Melissa Morgan of Blake Medical Center.

"We want to stay ahead of the curve and let the medical community know the county is here to help," Koper said.

Koper said he and other officials are receiving a steady stream of information from Bencie's office.

"The Manatee Department of Health has been proactive in its messaging and we believe local hospitals are prepared," Koper said. "Right now we are all in monitoring and awareness mode."

Koper said travel histories of Manatee County residents are not being tracked, no one is under surveillance and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is not tracking travelers.

"It's a non-issue right now," Koper said.

Koper said the county is answering calls from concerned citizens with coughs and fevers.

"This is not an easy disease to get," said Bencie, explaining the virus is not airborne and only lives for a while outside a host. "If you touch it, it still has to find a way into your body, through a small cut.

"Should we ever need to respond to an Ebola situation, our community is ready."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.