Concerns mount over US Ebola quarantine

AFP| Updated: Oct 27, 2014, 02:52 AM IST

New mandatory Ebola quarantine measures in three US states came under fire Sunday, with President Barack Obama`s administration said to pressure their governors to reverse their decision.

Health authorities also expressed concern the strict new rules will discourage badly needed health workers from volunteering in the crisis in West Africa, where more than 4,900 people have already died in the worst ever outbreak of the hemorrhagic virus.

Kaci Hickox, who became the first American nurse isolated under the new orders on Friday, blasted her treatment as "inhumane."

"I feel like my basic human rights have been violated," Hickox told CNN. She had flown into New Jersey after caring for the ill in hard-hit Sierra Leone.

Hickox has been isolated in a hospital out of fear she could develop the disease later, given its 21-day incubation period.

She is being kept outside the main hospital building, with only a hospital bed, a non-flush chemical toilet and no shower. She has only been allowed to wear paper scrubs and has not been told how long she will have to remain isolated.

"When I arrived, I was not symptomatic, and that Friday they tested my blood, and I am negative," all signs she is not contagious, Hickox told CNN`s "State of the Union."

"To put me in prison... is just inhumane."Strict new rules in New York, New Jersey and Illinois -- implemented Friday -- require a three-week quarantine for anyone exposed to the disease.

And on Sunday, Florida`s governor ordered twice-daily monitoring for 21 days of anyone returning from an Ebola-stricken country, though stopping short of requiring quarantine.

Ever since New York and New Jersey implemented their measures, senior Obama administration officials have been speaking with their governors on a daily basis to convince them to rescind the order, The New York Times reported.

The decisions by the governors -- Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York and Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey -- were "uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn`t comport with science," a senior administration official told the Times.

The official was referring to the case of a doctor, 33-year-old Craig Spencer, who tested positive a week after returning from Guinea. Health authorities have said the risk he infected others is extremely low.

Both Christie and Cuomo stood by their decision, saying current federal guidelines were insufficient.

Health authorities, however, the state measures could be counterproductive.

"The best way to protect us is to stop (the outbreak) in Africa, and one of the best ways to stop it in Africa is to get health workers who are going there and helping them with their problem," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci told CNN.

"When they come back, they need to be treated in a way that doesn`t disincentivize them from going there."

He stressed that people who are neither ill nor symptomatic are not a threat.US envoy to the United Nations Samantha Power has expressed concern the new quarantine policies were "haphazard and not well thought out."

"We cannot take measures here that are going to impact our ability to flood the zone" with health workers, Power said as she began a tour of West African nations struggling with the disease.

Fauci, speaking on ABC television`s "This Week," stressed that it was possible to monitor people considered at risk of infection by taking their temperature and monitoring for symptoms.

"There`s a big, big difference between completely confining somebody that they can`t even get outside and doing the appropriate monitoring based on scientific evidence," he said on CNN.

There have been nine cases of Ebola in the United States so far, most among health workers who volunteered in Africa, with only one death.

Ebola is spread though close contact with the sweat, vomit, blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.