Base Ebola quarantine policies on science

Quarantining health care workers returning to the U.S. after caring for Ebola patients in West Africa isn’t a science-based strategy, according to Ashish Jha of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Doing so, in fact, could dissuade these workers from volunteering in West Africa to help control the epidemic at its source—which is the best way to stop its global spread.

On October 28, 2014 Jha was a guest on the National Public Radio show “On Point,” where he discussed the pros and cons of quarantining health care workers who have worked with Ebola patients. The previous week, several states, including New York and New Jersey, had imposed quarantines of up to 21 days on health care workers returning from West Africa, although New York has since eased those restrictions somewhat.

Jha, K.T. Li Professor of International Health at HSPH and Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, emphasized the fact that until a person with Ebola develops severe symptoms, he or she can’t spread it to someone else.

He likened the Ebola epidemic to “a fire in the neighborhood, 10 houses down,” that needs to be put out. “As long as it continues to rage, our house is at risk,” he said. “We do not want to make it harder for firefighters—for doctors and nurses—to go put that fire out.”

Listen to the “On Point” show featuring Ashish Jha: A Brief History of Medical Quarantine

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Ebola in the news (HSPH news)