WASHINGTON: The communications team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has spent the last 48-hours ensuring the media and general public were as informed as possible on the intricacies surrounding tuberculosis testing.It was on Tuesday when news broke that Andrew Speaker – the Atlanta lawyer who set off a public health panic last May when he flew to Europe with tuberculosis – had a less dangerous form of the disease than previously thought. Since then the agency has been under fire for overreacting.
The challenge, said Glen Nowak, director of media relations for the CDC, is helping the public understand the agency took the right action considering the information available to them at the time.
On Tuesday, the agency held a joint press conference with the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, where Speaker is being treated. Nowak said the agency has also been updating its Web site frequently and is making agency doctors and scientists available to help people understand how diagnosis testing for the disease works.
“Tuberculosis testing isn’t like pregnancy testing – it’s not an either you are or you aren’t – it’s more complicated,” Nowak said. “So we’ve had our experts explain what’s involved. Another challenge is people don’t realize there aren’t rapid diagnosis tests.”
Nowak pointed to Tuesday’s analysis piece in the New York Times as evidence the agency’s message is getting across. In the piece, a number of health experts, including the chief science advisor for the Public Health Agency of Canada, backed the CDC’s actions.
Nowak said they learned of the test results last week from both the CDC lab and the National Jewish Hospital and that it was essential to work with everyone involved to show why the center took the steps it did.
“Throughout this, what we’ve been trying to do is be very transparent about the public health actions we’re taking and be very explicit about the reasons we are taking those actions,” he said.