The Corner

CDC Doublespeak on Ebola

I’d be much more inclined to trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Ebola if its statements to the public weren’t contradicted or limited by its own materials. Here are a couple of examples:

‐In this infographic titled “Facts about Ebola in the U.S.,” the CDC states flatly that “You CAN’T get Ebola through AIR.” But this separate Q&A acknowledges that airborne particles from coughing or sneezing can infect:

Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease.

Further, given what MIT News says about how far droplets from coughs and sneezes can travel and how long they can remain airborne, the CDC phrase “coughs or sneezes on someone” might involve much less immediacy than the reader would think.

Worse, a “guidance document” that the CDC has “developed for use by healthcare personnel and public health professionals” — but not for us yahoos in the public — is much more modest in its claim:

Airborne transmission of Ebola virus has been hypothesized but not demonstrated in humans. While Ebola virus can be spread through airborne particles under experimental conditions in animals, this type of spread has not been documented during human EVD outbreaks in settings such as hospitals or households. In the laboratory setting, non-human primates with their heads placed in closed hoods have been exposed to and infected by nebulized aerosols of Ebola virus. In a different experiment, control monkeys were placed in cages 3 meters away from the cages of monkeys that were intramuscularly inoculated with Ebola virus. Control and inoculated monkeys both developed Ebola virus infection. The authors concluded that “fomite and contact droplet” transmission to the control monkeys was unlikely, and that airborne transmission was most likely, but they did not discuss the potential behaviors of caged non-human primates (e.g., spitting and throwing feces) that might have led to body fluid exposures [italics mine].

The proposition that airborne transmission of the Ebola virus has not been demonstrated in humans is, of course, very different from the proposition that airborne transmission has been demonstrated to be impossible. But it’s the latter proposition that CDC is hawking to the public.

‐In that same infographic, the CDC states, “You can only get Ebola from . . . Touching the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or who has died from Ebola” (or from touching “contaminated objects, like needles” or “infected fruit bats or primates”).

Again, this statement obscures the possibility of transmission from coughs or sneezes.

Worse, the CDC guidance document for health-care personnel states that “Ebola virus can be transmitted by direct contact with blood, bodily fluids, or skin of [infected] patients or persons who have died of [Ebola].”

Why did the CDC drop from its Infographic (as well as from its Q&A) the fact that Ebola can be transmitted by direct contact with the skin of Ebola patients?


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