US & Canada

Ebola outbreak: US advises against quarantine

Kaci Hickox's quarantine tent Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kaci Hickox's quarantine tent had no shower

US medics returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa will be actively monitored but not placed in quarantine under new US health rules.

The federal guidelines came after a nurse was put in isolation in a tent in New Jersey, a decision condemned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Meanwhile, Australia has been criticised for a West Africa visa ban.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has infected more than 10,000 people and killed almost 5,000.

People are not contagious until they develop Ebola symptoms and the UN Secretary-General's spokesman said "returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity".

"They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science."

Quarantine decisions in the US are made in each state, and the new guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were immediately rejected by the governor of New Jersey.

The CDC said it was "concerned about some policies" being put into place.

New Jersey is one of three states with a 21-day quarantine for all health workers who have had contact with Ebola patients.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended the mandatory isolation imposed on US nurse Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined when she returned home from Sierra Leone. He added: "That's what we will continue to do."

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Media captionThe BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Monrovia in Liberia: ''Ebola robs its victims of their dignity''

Ms Hickox, who had no symptoms, has now left hospital in New Jersey for her home in Maine, where health officials say she'll be quarantined for 21 days.

She said she was made to feel like a criminal when she arrived back in the US last Friday.

Separately, Australia, which has had several scares but no recorded case of Ebola, has been criticised by Amnesty International for taking a "narrow approach".

A spokesman told Reuters that the ban made no sense from a health perspective but ensured that vulnerable people were trapped in a crisis area.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie in New Jersey have defied public health officials

Analysis: Anthony Zurcher, BBC News

The decisions in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere aren't about proper policy, says the Washington Post's Daniel W Drezner, they're about politics.

"Let's be clear - Cuomo and Christie acted in the interest of being perceived as 'doing something' highly visible even though those actions will not make anyone safer," he writes. "It's the definition of security theatre."

Moreover, given US political realities, it's theatre that will play itself out again and again in states across the country as long as new Ebola cases continue to appear.

US Ebola weakness: Politics is policy

In other developments:

  • The US Army Chief of Staff has imposed a 21-day monitoring period for all soldiers returning from the region
  • The husband of a Spanish nurse who recovered from Ebola has been sharply critical of Spain's government
  • The UN's chief of Ebola mission has told the BBC that the outbreak is likely to get worse
  • A five-year-old boy has tested negative for Ebola in New York after visiting West Africa and developing a fever
  • In the US, the Pentagon says about a dozen US troops returning from West Africa are being isolated at a base in Italy
  • And Amber Vinson, a US nurse who contracted Ebola from a Liberian man who died of the disease in Dallas, Texas, is being released from hospital after being found free of the virus

The CDC's guidance for travellers and health workers returning from West Africa sets out four risk categories, and puts most healthcare workers returning from the epidemic-hit region as at "some risk" of infection.

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Media captionAnthony Banbury, UN Ebola mission: "We need more and we need it fast"

CDC director Dr Tom Frieden said workers considered to be at high risk or some risk would be required to be "actively" monitored for symptoms for 21 days.

Those at highest risk are anyone who's had direct contact with an Ebola patient's body fluids.

Even if they have no symptoms, they should avoid commercial travel and large public events, Dr Frieden said, adding that voluntary quarantine was enough.

More than 10,000 people have contracted the Ebola virus, with 4,922 deaths, according to the World Health Organization's latest figures.

All but 27 of the cases have occurred inside Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The virus spreads through close contact and health officials say stopping the spread of the disease in the areas hardest hit by the outbreak will prevent Ebola's spread to other countries.

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

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Media captionHow Ebola survivors’ blood is saving lives
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • No proven vaccine or cure
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

Ebola special report