The CDC has revised its quarantine guidelines for future public health outbreaks — amidst ongoing debate regarding its ethics.

ATLANTA, UNITED STATES — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in conjunction with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published its newly revised regulations concerning the use of quarantine as part of state and public health policy. Titled Final Rule for Control of Communicable Diseases: Interstate and Foreign, it is the first revision of the CDC’s quarantine authority since 1944.

The revisions were initially proposed to the public in August 2016, with a comment period lasting till October 2016 and ending with over 15,000 comments received. Approximately 600 of these comments came from substantive perspectives (health agencies, legal scholars, the airline industry, etc) and the CDC’s outlined response to these public comments can be found here. The update was then finalized at the end of the Obama administration and posted today. The Trump administration has decided to include the changes in its broad review of new regulations and there is the expectation that the final version will go into effect in late March.

Obvious to all commenters is the recent Ebola outbreak as context for these revisions. And many have stressed the need for caution, future research, and attention to the actual threat Ebola poses in the US. It is understood that the way Ebola progresses in the actually infected often reduces the efficacy of early, accurate screening, leading several public health workers to recommend quarantine on less reliable indicators of infection. To revise broad quarantine regulations and state powers, based on the particular threat Ebola recently posed in the US, would, for several commenters, be unwarranted and concerning.

There has, therefore, been a remarkably robust discussion about the new quarantine regulations. That conversation presents to a concerned reading public both the benefits of the revisions and the possibly undue infringements on civil liberties that may accompany them, when future public health cases will undoubtedly arise. For further reading into the debate, please see these entries in Health Affairs Blog and the journal Health Security.

Building with Large CDC Sign
General View of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters, Atlanta, 2014 (Tami Chappell/File Photo/Reuters)

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