Guarding Against the Next Ebola

Healthcare and Public Health Sector Chief Dr. Terry Donat examines what we’ve learned from the Ebola experience and how we can better secure our population against the threat of future — and inevitable — epidemics.

By Karl J. Paloucek

It’s been years since public health officials first warned that a massive epidemic in America was all but inevitable. It hasn’t been a question of “if,” but of “when.” And somehow, the general response to Ebola’s arrival was predictable: Alarm. Fear. Uncertainty. A lack of public understanding. Unsure government reaction. The international Ebola crisis isn’t over by any means, but even with the relatively low initial casualty rate inside our borders, is there an acute need for those on the frontlines of health and public safety to re-evaluate its methods and revise its procedures?

(AP Photo/CDC, File)
(AP Photo/CDC, File)

According to professionals in the field, including Dr. Terry Donat — InfraGard Public Health and Healthcare Sector Chief — the answer is a resounding yes.

What Could We Have Done Better?
Donat suggests that although casualties from the initial incursion of the Ebola virus into America were comparatively low, we shouldn’t be too proud of our overall response. Our lack of situational awareness with regard to this disease and how to cope with it upon its arrival illustrate just how vulnerable the existing system is, and how much room for improvement remains. “I think the few things that really mattered, the things they failed upon, were, ‘How are we going to secure this country?’ and ‘How are we going to secure individuals that are dealing with this?’” he argues. “I would have thought that in the last 10 years, they would have put together huge pdf and video packages that, if something like this happened, they would have just emailed all of the people in all the hospitals and cities these large information packages, as opposed to spitting it out on an ad hoc basis.”

In a crisis marked by high anxiety, managing the fear surrounding the contagion is paramount. Accurate and timely information is the most effective weapon in combating both the unknown variables that are the source of people’s fears, as well as for preventing the spread of disease. By not directly addressing people’s fears regarding communicability, means of transmission, common symptoms and how to respond in case of a possible infection, the fear of the unknown grows. With it grows the probability of misinformation and, consequently, more widespread infection.