The fog of war affects those fighting disease outbreaks as well as those in combat, according to the man in charge of battling the outbreak of Middle East coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Although much is known about the virus, "unfortunately some issues are still unresolved," according to Ziad Memish, MD, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Minister for Public Health.
Those knowledge gaps are the "biggest challenge," he said, in communicating what's happening with the outbreak, which has caused 130 laboratory confirmed cases and 58 deaths, most of them in Saudi Arabia.
"There's a lot of stuff we don't know," Memish said in the opening plenary session of the annual IDWeek meeting here, "and that's the part that is difficult to explain to news media and reporters."
Saudi officials were recently publicly chided for not being forthcoming about all the details of the outbreak. In an interview, Larry Anderson, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta, called the state of knowledge about the virus "concerning and sad."
"We knew more in two to three weeks with SARS than we probably even know now (about MERS)," Anderson told the Canadian Press.
Anderson, who now teaches in the medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, led the CDC's response to the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which infected about 8,000 people worldwide and killed about 700.
In an earlier presentation in the same session, Richard Besser, MD, of ABC News, said he had found the Saudis less "transparent" than he would have liked about the outbreak.
Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, compared the Saudis with the Chinese during last spring's H7N9 avian flu outbreak.
Chinese officials "opened the doors," Besser said, "but the doors weren't opened so wide" when he tried to get inside the MERS outbreak.
The issue is important, Besser argued, because "without total transparency, you're not going to have trust."
Memish replied bluntly that he disagreed: "There's a lot of data being shared."
Later, Memish told MedPage Today "we have been transparent with reporting cases (and) we're testing aggressively."
"We're testing, we're reporting, and we're doing the best that we can," he said.