(Reuters) – Federal health officials on Monday revamped guidelines for doctors and nurses returning home to the United States from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, stopping well short of controversial mandatory quarantines being imposed by some U.S. states.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection but said most medical workers returning from the three countries at the center of the epidemic would require daily monitoring without isolation.
New York and New Jersey are among a handful of states to impose mandatory quarantines on returning doctors and nurses amid fears of the virus spreading outside of West Africa, where it has killed nearly 5,000 people in the worst outbreak on record.
The Obama administration’s new guidelines are not mandatory, and states will have the right to put in place policies that are more strict. Some state officials, grappling with an unfamiliar public health threat, had called federal restrictions placed on people traveling from Ebola-affected countries insufficient to protect Americans and have imposed tougher measures.
With thousands already dead from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, concerns are high in the United States about stopping its spread.
Late on Monday, the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore said it was assessing a potential Ebola patient, who was in isolation. The hospital, one of three designated Ebola treatment centers in the area, gave no further details.
Earlier in the day in New York City, a 5-year-old boy who arrived in the United States from Guinea and was in hospital for screening for fever, tested negative for Ebola.
The CDC’s Frieden, on a conference call with reporters,
warned against turning doctors and nurses who are striving to tackle Ebola in West Africa before it spreads more widely into “pariahs.”
Under new CDC guidelines that spell out four risk categories, most healthcare workers returning from West Africa’s Ebola hot zone would be considered to be at “some risk” for infection, while healthcare workers tending to Ebola patients at U.S. facilities would be seen as “low but non-zero” risk.
In other Ebola-related developments, the U.S. military said it was isolating troops returning from their mission to help West African countries curb Ebola even though they showed no sign of infection. And a nurse who treated patients in Sierra Leone was released to go to her home state of Maine after New Jersey had forced her into quarantine. The nurse had been kept in quarantine for two days after testing negative for the Ebola virus.
There has been a growing chorus of critics, including public health experts, the United Nations, medical charities and even the White House, denouncing mandatory quarantines as scientifically unjustified and an obstacle to fighting the disease at its source in West Africa.
“At CDC, we base our decisions on science and experience. We base our decisions on what we know and what we learn. And as the science and experience changes, we adopt and adapt our guidelines and recommendations,” Frieden said.
Medical professionals say Ebola is difficult to catch and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and not transmitted by asymptomatic people. Ebola is not airborne.
Frieden said high-risk people include healthcare workers who suffer a needle stick while caring for an Ebola patient or who tend to a patient without protective gear.
He said returning health workers at “some risk” would have their health monitored daily by a local health department official who would check their temperature, look for signs of fatigue and review their daily activity plans to determine what activity “makes sense for that individual, at that time.”
President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, made clear Monday that the White House was not thrilled that individual states had implemented quarantines viewed as unfair to returning healthcare workers, though he acknowledged the states’ rights to set them.
“We want to make sure that whatever policies are put in place in this country to protect the American public do not serve as a disincentive to doctors and nurses from this country volunteering to travel to West Africa to treat Ebola patients,” Earnest said.….READ MORE…