- - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Obama administration is certain that the president and all his men know more about everything than just about anyone else. They see no point in listening to anyone outside the comfortable confines of the White House bunker. If anything goes wrong, it’s someone else’s fault.

This attitude doesn’t always work. Warnings about the efficiency of Obamacare were ignored. Red flags were raised early on about problems within the Veterans Administration and that the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) might be more than junior varsity.

Such a wrong-headed response to the Ebola threat could get a lot of people killed. Traditional means of dealing with a pandemic of a frightening magnitude were rejected by an administration that, rightly concerned about how easily the media mob could foment panic in the streets, assured us that there was nothing for anyone to worry about, that Ebola is not the threat that some thought it to be and that, anyway, the nation was prepared for an outbreak.

“In recent months,” Mr. Obama said with confidence on Monday, “we’ve had thousands of travelers arriving here from West Africa, and so far only one case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the United States, and that’s the patient in Dallas.” That patient died early Wednesday morning.

Some researchers think the president may be whistling past a graveyard. The administration repeats the reassurance that Ebola can be contracted only through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person with symptoms. Going airborne would be dangerous, but government spokesmen say that isn’t likely, nor is it likely that Ebola would mutate into a more aggressive and virulent form.

Such reassurance might be correct. Yet some researchers who have studied this disease worry that such reassurance over how Ebola is transmitted may be reassurance misplaced. Dr. C.J. Peters was director of a federal research center in Reston, Va., when an outbreak of Ebola killed research monkeys there several years ago. He later directed a study of how the virus spreads for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This week, he told The Los Angeles Times that he “wouldn’t rule out” the possibility of airborne transmission in “tight quarters.”

“Tight quarters” could be the interior of an airliner. Dr. Peters doesn’t specifically contradict the CDC assertion that there is “zero risk of transmission” in such circumstances, but, being a careful researcher, says that “we just don’t have the data to exclude it.” Another official who led the Reston cleanup told the newspaper that the reassurance that the virus cannot be transmitted through the air is misleading because a cough or a sneeze of an infected person distributes mucus that is a bodily fluid.

Ben S. Carson, a distinguished doctor, suggested on these pages Wednesday that caution demands not the reassurance of politicians, but respect for the medical steps needed to contain Ebola. The first step is stopping at the border travelers from places where Ebola has broken out. That makes sense.

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