Why the Centers for Disease Control Hides the Truth

I’ve already posted today about the problem with treating the Centers for Disease Control as the central authority that can save us. Perhaps the CDC’s “quiet” changes in the description of Ebola and its dangers will help us see the problem more clearly.

According to the Daily Caller, “CDC Quietly Lowered Critical Ebola Temperature After Nurse Became Ill.”

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The Centers for Disease Control quietly lowered the official threshold for what it considers significant fever after the first nurse diagnosed with the disease began exhibiting symptoms at a lower than expected temperature.

“We changed to 100.4 after the first nurse presented to hospital with symptoms of disease and her temp was not the 101.5 that Ebola patients usually present when they are having vomiting diarrhea, etc.,” CDC spokesman Thomas Skinner told The Daily Caller through email on Thursday.

That nurse is 26-year-old Nina Pham, who treated Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital. The 43-year-old Duncan, a Liberian national, died on Oct. 8.

Questions over the CDC’s temperature threshold arose Wednesday when a second nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, was diagnosed with the gruesome disease.


The protocol change appears to have come without public announcement.

If the Centers for Disease Control is supposed to be the central medical authority we should all depend on, then why would they make a change and not announce it? After all, presumably many people have consulted the CDC’s resources and learned about the 101.5 temperature threshold. They won’t know to go back and check for new information. They now have a false sense of security which the CDC needs to correct.

But they aren’t doing so. They aren’t making a big deal about the new guideline.

Why not?

I think the answer is rather obvious. As the central authority on medical issues of this sort, the Centers for Disease Control never wants to admit that its guidance is fallible. Drawing attention to the new temperature would mean drawing attention to the fact that the CDC was wrong before. That would raise uncomfortable questions.

Ironically, the CDC took steps to appear more reliable which actually made it more unreliable. It would be far more reliable and helpful to people to broadcast the new temperature far and wide, telling people that it now had new information. But to appear more reliable requires the opposite behavior.

By lowering the critical temperature threshold, the CDC has essentially admitted that it is still learning about how to treat Ebola, which has led to thousands of deaths in West Africa.

That is an admission they don’t want to make too loudly. That is the burden of centralized power and authority. And it is another reason it can cause problems.