posted on Apr, 4 2003 @ 06:20 PM
Bush OKs Quarantine Authority for SARS
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By LAURA MECKLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) on Friday gave federal health officials authority to quarantine Americans sick with the highly
contagious mystery illness. Officials said there were no immediate plans to use the emergency powers.
In an executive order signed Friday, Bush added severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, to the list of diseases for which health authorities have
authority to hold Americans against their will.
It's the first time a new disease has been added to the list in two decades.
"If spread in the population," the order says, SARS "would have severe public health consequences."
Several diseases have long been on the list for which quarantine may be used: cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow
fever and several viral hemorrhagic fevers.
The last large-scale quarantine in this country was during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, though there have been smaller scale quarantines ó
for instance, travelers coming off airlines or cruise ships who have been exposed to curable diseases.
_ Federal researchers said they are beginning work toward a vaccine that could eventually help control SARS. They are already courting private
pharmaceutical companies that might manufacture the treatments down the road.
_ In China, officials issued an extraordinary apology for not doing a better job of informing people about SARS. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human
Services (news - web sites) Tommy Thompson said he spoke with his counterpart in China and they pledged to cooperate in battling the outbreak.
_ Pentagon (news - web sites) officials said that, effective immediately, all U.S. military personnel are prohibited from traveling to any part of
China, including Hong Kong, except on essential missions. They also are advised to take extraordinary precautions if they visit Singapore or Vietnam.
_ Investigation into the disease's origins continued. International health officials were seeking the first person believed infected with SARS, a man
in the hard-hit southern province of Guangdong.
SARS, whose symptoms include high fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath, has killed at least 85 people in Asia and Canada and sickened at
least 2,300 in more than a dozen nations as infected travelers spread the disease. In the United States, 115 cases in 29 states have been reported.
About 4 percent of the victims have died from the disease, though none of them in this country. There's no cure yet, but most sufferers are
recovering with timely hospital care.
While U.S. authorities described the executive order as a precautionary measure, quarantine has been used in other nations fighting SARS. In Hong
Kong, authorities used barricades and tape to seal 240 people inside their infected apartment building, and the next night, they were put in
In Ontario, anyone with symptoms, anyone who has been in contact with SARS patients or anyone who visited two hospitals where the illness first turned
up were asked to quarantine themselves at home for 10 days.
And in Singapore earlier this week, authorities ordered the men's and women's rugby teams to quarantine themselves at home for at least a week after
they returned from the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.
Asked about actions abroad, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that such measures didn't yet appear warranted in the
"If there is a virus that is explosive ... and the only way to control it is by quarantine, we have to consider it," he said. "But we're not there
Legally, quarantine involves restricting the movement of healthy people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease and may be carrying it.
It's almost always done voluntarily, and usually for only a short period of time, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (news - web sites), said this week.
Quarantine might be used, for instance, while someone is being evaluated or treated.
"It's very important to move away from the understanding of quarantine that we had a century ago, which was really something that was ... often very
unfair and very difficult for the people who were involved in it. That is not the kind of quarantine that we're talking about in the 21st century,"
she said. "We're talking about public health tools that simply serve to protect people or to protect themselves or others from a communicable
Isolation, a related but less severe action, involves separating people who are known to be infected from others. It is usually voluntary and occurs
frequently in hospitals. People infected with SARS in the United States are currently being isolated.
States also have the power to quarantine people in a public health emergency, but that authority varies widely. The federal powers are derived from
the law that Bush revised Friday.