Others’ Opinion: What went wrong with the CDC?

Published 9:16 am Thursday, October 30, 2014

—The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)

When public health threats surface, many Americans, including health care professionals, turn to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials are the experts, after all.

So why did they get things so badly wrong when Ebola came to the United States? Why did the CDC finally issue new guidelines on care for Ebola patients only after nurses demanded a change?

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When a Liberian man with Ebola checked into a Dallas, Texas, hospital earlier this month, nurses and other professionals there relied on CDC guidelines for protective equipment and procedures. After the man died, two of the nurses who treated him came down with Ebola.

Led by the American Nurses Association, health care professionals pointed out the CDC’s initial guidance clearly was inadequate. That, by the way, occurred after CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden initially tried to blame errors at the Texas hospital on the nurses themselves, suggesting violations of CDC protocols.

But this week, the CDC released new guidelines for caring for Ebola patients. They are substantially more rigid than those the agency formerly said were appropriate.

Now is the time for Americans to pull together in a nonpartisan manner to contain Ebola, both here and abroad. But members of Congress are right to be looking into failures by the CDC.

It appears we have dodged a collective bullet this time. But Ebola or some other dangerous disease will be back — and Americans are right to demand that next time, the CDC gets its response right the first time.