Public Health

Questions About Quarantine?

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In honor of the recent super-tuberculosis scare, Slate's Explainer explains who can quarantine who, and when:

States have been broadening their public-health powers in recent years because of bioterrorism and pandemic fears. Sometimes a state will amend its laws to deal with a specific crisis. For instance, Alaska had to pass an amendment during the SARS scare to be able to quarantine and investigate a docked ship….

But in general, the government rarely has to exercise these powers, because most of the time, citizens cooperate. In fact, until this recent situation, the CDC hadn't issued such an order since 1963, when it quarantined a man for smallpox exposure. Even during the SARS epidemic in 2003, officials relied mostly on voluntary isolation and quarantine. And the last large-scale quarantine in the U.S. took place during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19.

For more, read Ron Bailey on global epidemics and Declan McCullagh on SARS.

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  1. Quarantine, schmuarantine. Charlton Heston knows the best solution.

  2. What, the scooper trucks? Cause those things are great.

  3. I’ve always thought that we’re quarantining the germs, and the person just happens to be attached to the germs at the moment. Germs don’t have civil liberties.

  4. Shouldn’t it be: “who can quarantine whom“?

    I know, I know…

  5. “Charlton Heston knows the best solution.”

    A crushed velvet jacket?

  6. Yes, Moses can end this “plague in waiting”, and part the Red Propaganda and lead us out of the bondage of the Luddite Pharoahs and junk science high priests who are scaring everybody to increase the power of their little empires, and simultaneously gain their 15 seconds of fame.

    May the most virulent parasites from Bill Clinton’s underwear afflict the headline-desperate junk scientists!

  7. So, was the failure to quarantine AIDS victims a fault of the political system, the health system or both?

    Since the 1990s this is the first time that I have heard of any attempt to stop someone known to be infected, with anything, who the uppers in the border bunch said should be stopped.

    Side note, looks like “da man” was right on this one and “the workers” were off by a wide margin.

  8. Quarantines can only be justified under the most extreme circumstances. A-Hole super-TB international globe traveler lawyer seems to qualify.

    It would be really interesting to have threads on the FCC ruling today, as well as the William Jefferson indictments.

  9. Sure, everyone talks quarantine now. Just wait until they go albino and get scared of light. Then the only cure is a machine gun.

  10. This is indeed the first federal quarantine in 44 years but states and do this much more often than the federal government. This story (which was the subject of previous post) says that 17 TB patients have been put into involuntary quarantine in Texas but 0 in CA this year.

    Is there a difference between the federal and state quarantines and does anyone have any data on the number of state quarantines? The state level quarantines seem to have been ignored with the above case because the order was issued by the CDC even though they are more common.

  11. The County of San Diego is running tv & radio ads right now about bird flu that amount to “Citizen: If you are not panicking and preparing for the impending doom of bird flu, you are being disloyal to the government.”

  12. So, was the failure to quarantine AIDS victims a fault of the political system, the health system or both?

    Actually I think it’s valid to distinguish between airborne pathogens like TB or Spanish Flu and diseases like HIV which are only transmittable through fluid transfer.

    Quarantine or vaccination (if available) seem to be the only means of prevent the spread of the former, while the latter can be controlled by keeping ones pants on in the company of others.

  13. Ron Paul on the Daily Show, like, now.

  14. They could be talking about how to smoke two packs a day without getting cancer, I have yet to make it two minuets into a TDS interview. Jon Stewart is funny and all, but I’ve always seen the guest portion of the show as the “we don’t have enough energy to write 22 minuets of material.

  15. …we don’t have enough energy to write 22 minuets of material.

    They should hire Bach?

  16. If someone would check,
    NC will tell someone with TB
    in no uncertain terms to stay home
    and to take their meds as prescribed.

    If anyone can be proved to have contracted TB
    they should be able to sue the lawyer,
    and the Feds as well. Money talks.
    Seems the feds are whimpy and border security lax.

  17. …I have yet to make it two minuets into a TDS interview…

    Good idea, since the interviews are (apparently) rather creatively edited:
    http://volokh.com/posts/1175746436.shtml

  18. “Good idea, since the interviews are (apparently) rather creatively edited:
    http://volokh.com/posts/1175746436.shtml

    I could be wrong, but I believe that this only applies to the segments where the “field reporters” do their stories. Anybody that can’t figure out that these are just a complete joke deserves whatever they get. I don’t think that the interviews with the guests on the show are cut up like that.

    I just checked out the Daily Show Ron Paul interview from last night, and I thought it was one of the better ones Paul’s been given. Stewart asked some decent questions and let Paul present his views pretty well.

  19. There was really great documentary made back in the 90s called “A time of AIDS”. I think it might have been a PBS Frontline documentary. Health officials knew who patient zero was in the AIDS epidemic pretty early on, even before they figured out what what AIDS was. They had pretty strong evidence that it was a sexually transmitted disease. Meanwhile, patient zero was a jet setting gay steward who was rountinely sleeping with dozens of gay men accross the country. Health officials did nothing to stop him beyond asking him nicely to stop and waiving their fingers at him. They also did not close the gay bath houses or put out a strong message about the dangers of the coming epidemic. If they had, a lot of people would be alive today that are not.

    The lesson is that we do not have the political will to really quarentine people. I don’t think the US could stop a SARS or a serious influenza today.

  20. “The County of San Diego is running tv & radio ads right now about bird flu that amount to “Citizen: If you are not panicking and preparing for the impending doom of bird flu, you are being disloyal to the government.””

    Pics? I’m hoping they’re ironically Orwellian.

  21. So, was the failure to quarantine AIDS victims a fault of the political system, the health system or both?

    The failure to quarantine AIDS patients was due to the basic math of epidemiology. AIDS has (or had) a high mortality rate, but a very low incidental transmission rate. 99.9% of AIDS patients cause no threat to people who take basic precautions.

    Conversely, stupid is easily transmissible, but it probably only has a 35% mortality rate, and again, people can take some precautions to limit the effects of exposure.

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