POLITICS

Kaci Hickox Criticizes 'Abundance Of Politics' Behind Mandatory Quarantines

Nov 2 (Reuters) - A U.S. nurse who challenged quarantines of health care workers returning from treating West African Ebola patients said on Sunday she thought "an abundance of politics" lurked behind them.

Kaci Hickox has fought a heated public battle over what she considers draconian measures to isolate her for 21 days after her return from Sierra Leone, in a case that highlights the dilemma over how to balance public health needs and personal liberty.

In some U.S. states officials such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have imposed strict quarantines on health workers returning from three Ebola-ravaged West African countries, but the U.S. federal government opposes such measures.

"When Governor Christie stated that it was an abundance of caution, which is his reasoning for putting health care workers in a sort of quarantine for three weeks, it was really an abundance of politics," Hickox said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

"And I think all of the scientific and medical and public health community agrees with me on that statement," she said.

Christie has defended his decision to impose a mandatory three-week quarantine, saying that counting on a voluntary system may or may not work and that protecting health and safety is the government's job.

The most deadly outbreak of Ebola on record has killed nearly 5,000 people, all but a handful of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

ISOLATION TENT

Hickox tested negative for Ebola after returning recently from working for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. But she was placed in an isolation tent in New Jersey when she returned before being allowed to leave for Maine, which also sought to quarantine her at home.

A judge in Maine on Friday rejected that state's bid to quarantine Hickox, instead imposing limited restrictions on her. The judge said that Hickox must continue direct monitoring of her health, coordinate travel plans with health officials and report any symptoms.

"We know a lot about Ebola," Hickox told Meet the Press. "We know that it's not transmitted from someone who is asymptomatic, as I am and many other aid workers will be when they return."

Speaking to NBC from Fort Kent, Maine, Hickox indicated she would continue to stay away from crowds in her community, but that her partner, Ted Wilbur, should be allowed to go back to nursing school on Monday.

"I understand that the community has been through a lot in the past week and I do, you know, apologize to them for that," she told NBC.

"I will not go into town, into crowded public places ... But on the other hand, you know, my partner is currently in nursing school and there is definitely zero scientific evidence that says he shouldn't be allowed to return to his campus on Monday."

Only one person in the United States is currently being treated for Ebola, a New York doctor, Craig Spencer, who cared for patients in West Africa. His condition was upgraded by New York City health officials on Saturday to "stable" from "serious but stable" at Bellevue Hospital.

In Oregon, test results were awaited for a woman with a fever who was hospitalized in an isolation unit on Friday after returning from West Africa, Oregon health officials said.

She had not come into known contact with Ebola patients while in Africa, the officials added. (Reporting by Susan Cornwall in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Ebola is highly infectious and even being in the same room as someone with the disease can put you at risk
    Not as far as we know. <a href="http://www.who.int/features/2014/ebola-myths/en/" target="_blank">Ebola isn't contagious unti
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Not as far as we know. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients. It is not, from what we know of the science so far, an airborne virus. So contact with the patient's sweat, blood, vomit, feces or semen could cause infection, and the body remains infectious after death. Much of the spread in west Africa has been attributed to the initial distrust of medical staff, leaving many to be treated at home by loved ones, poorly equipped medics catching the disease from patients, and the traditional burial rites involving manually washing of the dead body. From what we know already, you can't catch it from the air, you can't catch it from food, you can't catch it from water.
  • 2 You need to be worried if someone is sneezing or coughing hard
    Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne,
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Apart from the fact that sneezing and coughing aren't generally thought to be symptoms of Ebola, the disease is not airborne, so unless someone coughed their phlegm directly into your mouth, you wouldn't catch the disease. Though medical staff will take every precaution to avoid coming into contact with the body of an infected person at all costs, with stringent hygiene there should be a way to contain the virus if it reaches the UK.
  • 3 Cancelling all flights from west Africa would stop the spread of Ebola
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    This actually has pretty serious implications. British Airways suspended its four-times-weekly flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of March, the only direct flight to the region from the UK. In practice, anyone can just change planes somewhere else and get to Britain from Europe, north Africa, or the Middle East. And aid agencies say that flight cancellations are hampering efforts to get the disease under control, they rely on commercial flights to get to the infected regions. Liberia's information minister, Lewis Brown, told the Telegraph this week that BA was putting more people in danger. "We need as many airlines coming in to this region as possible, because the cost of bringing in supplies and aid workers is becoming prohibitive," he told the Telegraph. "There just aren't enough seats on the planes. I can understand BA's initial reaction back in August, but they must remember this is a global fight now, not just a west African one, and we can't just be shut out." Christopher Stokes, director of MSF in Brussels, agreed: “Airlines have shut down many flights and the unintended consequence has been to slow and hamper the relief effort, paradoxically increasing the risk of this epidemic spreading across countries in west Africa first, then potentially elsewhere. We have to stop Ebola at source and this means we have to be able to go there.”
  • 4 Temperature screening at airports is an effective way to stop those who have the disease from travelling
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals <i>want</i> to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The screening process is pretty porous, especially when individuals want to subvert it. Wake up on the morning of your flight, feel a bit hot, and you definitely don't want to be sent to an isolation booth for days and have to miss your flight. Take an ibuprofen and you can lower your temperature enough to get past the scanners. And if you suspect you have Ebola, you might be desperate to leave, seeing how much better the treatment success has been in western nations. And experts have warned that you cannot expect people to be honest about who they have had contact with. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died in Texas, told officials he had not been in contact with anyone with the disease, but had in fact visited someone in the late stages of the virus, though he said he believed it was malaria. The extra screening that the US implemented since his death probably wouldn't have singled out Duncan when he arrived from hard-hit Liberia last month, because he had no symptoms while travelling.
  • 5 Border staff should stop people coming in to the country who are at risk
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly dia
    LEON NEAL via Getty Images
    They're not doctors, and it's a monumental task to train 23,500 people who work for the UK Border Agency how to correctly diagnose a complex disease, and spot it in the millions of people who come through British transport hubs. Public Health England has provided UK Border Force with advice on the assessment of an unwell patient on entry to UK, but they can't be expected to check everyone.
  • 6 Screening at British airports should be implemented to stop unwell people coming in from affected areas
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Afric
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    As mentioned before, the UK, especially London, is a major transport hub. Unlike the US, most of those coming from west Africa will have crossed through Europe, so infected people could be coming from practically anywhere, not just flights directly from those countries. This would require the UK to screen every returning traveller, as people could return to the UK from an affected country through any port of entry. This would be huge numbers of low risk people, at vast, vast expense.
  • 7 Ebola doesn't have a cure
    There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British su
    John Moore via Getty Images
    There are several cures currently being tested for Ebola. They include the ZMapp vaccine which was administered to British sufferer William Pooley and two other Americans who caught the disease in west Africa and they all recovered. Supplies of the drug have now run dry, and it has not been through clinical trials to prove its effectiveness. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that makes ZMapp, says the drug's supplies are exhausted and that it takes months to make even a small batch. But an Ebola cure is very much on the horizon, and would have come sooner had it been seen as any kind of priority for drug companies before it started reaching the western world.
  • 8 Ebola is a death sentence
    It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are m
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    It is true that certain strains of Ebola have had a death rate of 90%. However, with this particular epidemic the stats are more positive, a death rate of around 60%. Those who have decent, strong immune systems, are able to access intravenous fluids and scrupulous health care are far more likely to survive, which is why the survival rate of westerners who contract the disease is far better. Experts have suggested that, rather than waste money on pointless airport screenings, funds could be used to improve infrastructure in the affected nations to help halt the spread of the disease at source.
  • 9 Ebola turns you into a zombie
    Just,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/06/ebola-zombie-risen-dead-viral-hoax_n_5937728.html" target="_blank">
    Renee Keith via Getty Images
    Just, no.