Zika spread causing PR problems for CDC

Well, it had to happen, and now it has. Zika has been passed – in the United States – from a man with no discernible symptoms of the disease. When the mysterious “new” disease was discernible and preventable, when it was only being spread by people from other places, and when we knew how to “see” it and make arrangements to deal with it the monster could be caged.

Now the monster is out of the cage, and we still don’t know what it is, and what, if anything, we can or should do about it. We know the disease is spread, for the most part, either by mosquitoes or by sexual contact. The illness can be mild, in fact, it is mild in most cases. But a case of Zika during pregnancy can lead to massive problems and severe birth defects.

Until now, doctors have said the spread of the disease from an asymptomatic patient is extremely rare. It may still be, comparatively, but it’s happening. And when the unknown is added to any conversation or information about a disease that could cause birth defects, panic is not often far behind.

This reality creates a major public relations crisis for the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention as well as hospitals and medical facilities anywhere there has been a Zika case diagnosed.

When people know it COULD happen but they don’t know HOW or WHY, these questions often give way to fear, insecurity and, eventually, blind panic. The CDC needs to get well ahead of the news narrative on this. They need to be ahead of the game, having a message any and every time they’re asked a question about this by the media or a concerned citizen.

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And that message must go beyond the boilerplate stuff about preventing mosquitoes and trying not to get bit. It’s beyond that now. People who didn’t even realize they are sick are spreading the disease to people who had no idea they needed to be careful. This is B-movie horror stuff in front page headlines. Authorities need to get a handle on the message, not to contain the truth, but to help people understand and act in an informed manner. Anything less and this could get out of hand quickly.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.