Should all Ebola volunteers be quarantined?

Michael Cook
25 Oct 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Hundreds of foreign healthcare workers have been shuttling in and out of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa. They are altruistic, generous and brave. Should they be burdened with a 21-day quarantine when they return even if they do not have any symptoms of the disease? If so, fewer might go at a time when Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea need all the help they can get.

An example of the case for strict quarantine measures in the United States is Dr Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old physician who returned to New York City after working in Guinea. He felt fine, boarded a subway, went bowling with his fiancée and friends, and used a taxi. Then he developed a fever, which turned out to be Ebola.

Irresponsible, says Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, in The New Republic , but characteristic of energetic young physicians. who have a "sense of invulnerability, the inability to be stricken with illness even in the face of an epidemic, and, most cogently, a disdain for following the very rules and medical advice we give to our patients everyday."

New York and New Jersey have mandated a compulsory 21-day quarantine for medical workers returning from the worst-affected countries.

The case against these draconian measures is that they will deter people from volunteering. "We do want to ensure that whatever policies we put in place takes as the first priority the protection of the American public," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest yesterday. "But at the same time, we don't want to overly burden those individuals who are going to great lengths to try to serve their fellow man and stop this outbreak at the source, which ultimately is in the best interests of the American people."