The Ebola situation is testing the world’s best infectious disease team, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at its ability to perform crisis management. While the immediate threat in the United States appears to be receding, it is far from clear that we’re up to facing a stronger test.
The CDC is one of the great institutions of our federal government. Microbiologists, such as myself, idolize the scientists who have dedicated their careers and lives to making the planet safer. But the CDC has made some major missteps. Some understandable mistakes are clearly from inexperience in dealing with Ebola, but others are harder to explain. For instance, effective communication is a vital part of all crisis management, which should be a core function at the agency.
But that’s also harder than it looks. CDC has found itself in a Catch-22. It’s a nearly impossible balancing act to provide accurate information without unnecessarily frightening the public. Whether CDC said too much or too little, it was going to be criticized by the news media. The outbreak spread, so the CDC was condemned for being unprepared. But if the outbreak had fizzled, it would have been chastised for fear mongering.
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