Why We Don't Need To Quarantine The Doctors Who Treat Ebola Patients

by John Haltiwanger

Ebola has officially arrived in New York City. Accordingly, people are panicking, even though this is extremely unlikely to cause a massive outbreak.

The patient is a 33-year-old doctor named Craig Spencer. Spencer was working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Guinea, one of the countries most impacted by the Ebola outbreak.

He is a true humanitarian, yet many still feel the need to attack him for not taking the proper precautions when he came back to the United States. The truth is, however, that he did take the proper measures.

Likewise, many seem to feel that he should have been immediately quarantined upon his return. However, this tactic, much like the ineffective and irrational travel bans, wouldn't do much to stop him from spreading Ebola to other New Yorkers.

As a precaution, it's prudent that healthcare officials have quarantined Spencer's girlfriend, and two of his friends who had contact with him.

Yet, it was not necessary upon his immediate arrival in the US. Here are three reasons why it would have been unnecessary to quarantine Spencer when he first returned to the US:

1. Ebola is only contagious when an infected person is symptomatic.

Ebola has an incubation period of around two to 21 days. This means that a person can be infected, but not show any symptoms. An infected person is only contagious when they begin to show symptoms.

Spencer was not symptomatic prior to Oct. 23, when he developed a fever, pain, nausea and fatigue. He promptly reported his symptoms to healthcare officials and was admitted to a hospital immediately.

Accordingly, it's highly unlikely that he spread the disease to other New Yorkers.

Ebola symptoms overview from the CDC:

Thus, there's really no need to quarantine people until they show symptoms. Likewise, it's a good idea to quarantine anyone who was potentially exposed to an infected individual exhibiting symptoms.

As healthcare officials have done this in regards to Spencer, all of the proper measures have been taken to protect NYC residents.

2. Spencer took all of the proper precautions.

Dr. Craig Spencer is a medical expert. He's an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and fellow in international emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Likewise, he just spent a significant amount of time on the front lines of Ebola with MSF -- an organization that has been instrumental in combatting the outbreak in West Africa.

Accordingly, he knows how devastating this virus can be. Simply put, he's extremely knowledgeable and qualified to know when he should or shouldn't be hospitalized for the virus.

Hence, Spencer took all of the proper precautions after returning to the United States from Guinea. Correspondingly, as David Kroll notes for Forbes:

Neither MSF or federal, state, or city public health officials require that medical professionals caring for Ebola-infected patients completely isolate themselves upon returning home. Instead, they require the following: 1. Check temperature two times per day 2. Finish regular course of malaria prophylaxis (malaria symptoms can mimic Ebola symptoms) 3. Be aware of relevant symptoms, such as fever 4. Stay within four hours of a hospital with isolation facilities 5. Immediately contact the MSF-USA office if any relevant symptoms develop

Dr. Spencer did all of these things. He monitored his temperature and symptoms, took the proper medications, stayed close to a hospital and immediately contacted the MSF-USA office when he became symptomatic.

He did not break any laws, he followed explicit medical procedures and took every measure to ensure that if he was infected it would not be spread to others.

3. Ebola isn't very contagious.

To contract Ebola, you have to come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual. If someone infected with Ebola either vomits or bleeds on you, for example, then you might have reason to worry.

Likewise, unlike the common cold and flu, for example, Ebola is not airborne. You have to come in extremely close contact with an infected symptomatic individual in order to contract it.

Sitting in the same room as someone with Ebola does not meant to you will get infected, particularly if he or she is still in the incubation period.

For example, Thomas Eric Duncan was the first person to die from Ebola in America. He spent a great deal of time in his family's small apartment prior to his diagnosis and subsequent isolation in a Dallas hospital. Yet, none of his family members contracted Ebola.

4. Everyone chill. Everything is going to be all right.

Despite that fact that his family did not get infected, Thomas Eric Duncan did pass Ebola on to two Dallas nurses.

This happened primarily because the proper protocols were not followed when Duncan was admitted to the hospital where they treated him.

Yet, thankfully, both of these nurses have now been declared virus free, and are returning to full health.

Likewise, 43 other people who came in direct or indirect contact with Duncan were also recently declared Ebola-free.

Simply put, this disease is not that contagious, it's not an automatic death sentence and it can be defeated. At the same time, we should not forgot that Ebola is still an enormous problem in West Africa.

Accordingly, the best way to prevent any further isolated Ebola cases in America is by containing and defeating the epidemic in that region.

Photo Courtesy: IFRC