The Real Ebola Question

Microbiologist Alex Berezow says the CDC’s failure was predictable:

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.

Likely aware of this, the CDC chose the worst possible action: In an effort to keep the public calm, the CDC pretended to know more about Ebola than it actually does.

First, the CDC insisted that Ebola is very difficult to transmit from person to person. But, that is clearly not true. This particular Ebola strain appears to be more infectious than others. In an interview with Vox, virologist Peter Jahrling worried that this strain exhibits a higher “viral load,” which means it produces more virus particles. That could explain why the current outbreak is the largest in history, more than 20 times bigger than the previous record-setter, and in a worst-case scenario, without new mitigating measures, the epidemic could become 3,000 times as large.

Public panics would be less likely if the public’s faith in our institutions were stronger — but how are we supposed to trust our government when our government won’t trust us with the facts?