For public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maintaining credibility is critically important. Why? Because effective communication with both the health care community and the public is one of the most important tools these agencies use to prevent and control diseases that threaten public health, particularly serious contagious infections. For example, the CDC and other public health agencies have relied on guidance to the public on safe-sex practices to prevent the spread of HIV infection. If public health agencies lack credibility, their messages will go unheeded.
Last month, the leader of the CDC provided a textbook lesson on how to quickly squander an agency's credibility as his agency sought to respond to the threat posed by Ebola.