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With wall-to-wall Ebola coverage, how do public health workers balance vigilance with hysteria?




Volunteers from the Red Cross deliver blankets and other supplies to a unit at the Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying, on October 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. The first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the United States was staying with family members at The Ivy Apartment complex before being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. State and local officials are working with federal officials to monitor other individuals that had contact with the confirmed patient.
Volunteers from the Red Cross deliver blankets and other supplies to a unit at the Ivy Apartments, where the confirmed Ebola virus patient was staying, on October 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. The first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the United States was staying with family members at The Ivy Apartment complex before being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. State and local officials are working with federal officials to monitor other individuals that had contact with the confirmed patient.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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The disease is spreading at a rapid rate in West Africa, with public fears of health workers making treatment of the disease even more challenging than it would be otherwise. Public health officials here in the U.S. aren’t dealing with quite that level of suspicion, but there’s still plenty of second-guessing on social media and cable news.

Some have been critical of the Centers for Disease Control's decision to quarantine the family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Dallas man infected with Ebola. They say it sends a message to the community that if you get in touch with the CDC, if you start to have symptoms, the police might come to your door and seal in you and your family. That perception, in turn, could cause problems for the CDC team trying to do ‘contact tracing.’ Yesterday, health officials from the CDC, the Texas Health Department and the City of Dallas refused to answer many reporters’ questions about their response to the first case of Ebola in the U.S. and there’s a growing sense that limiting disclosure of information undermines those agencies’ credibility.

But with wall-to-wall cable news coverage and social media over-hyping the threat of ebola, how do public health workers weigh the need to put precautions in place while calming the public? And how can the media better put the U.S. presence of Ebola in perspective, while west Africa deals with a true crisis of over 7,000 people in infected and more than 3,300 dead?

Guest: 

Elise Viebeck, reporter with The Hill who’s been covering the CDC’s response to the ebola outbreak  

Amesh Adalja,   a Senior Associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which works to protect people's health from the consequences of epidemics and disasters. He is also Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at UPMC