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.
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.