One person in Iowa is now quarantined due an elevated risk of Ebola exposure while a dozen more people are considered at low risk for having been exposed to the potentially-deadly virus. The medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health says all 13 people are now in Iowa and have recently been in Western Africa.
Doctor Patty Quinlisk says people entering Iowa from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone are all screened for possible exposure to Ebola. “Those with the low risk, we’re letting them go ahead and do their normal activities but just take their temperature twice a day and report to us,” Dr. Quinlisk says. “People who have some risk or what we’re considering high risk, we’re asking them basically to stay home with some exceptions. We’re taking their temperature and observing them at least once a day just to make sure they stay well and there’s no risk to anyone here in Iowa.”
Due to privacy laws, Quinlisk would not provide any information about the identities or locations of any of the 13 people. In recent weeks, there was intense media scrutiny about people on the East Coast who were exposed to Ebola and quarantined, but who then ignored warnings and went out for meals or took bike rides. Quinlisk says medical quarantine laws vary from state to state.
“Here in Iowa, we actually do have enforceable quarantine laws,” Quinlisk says. “I’ll just tell you that most of the time I’ve found with Iowans, once we explain to them why we want them to do what they’re doing, we get full cooperation and that’s what’s happening now. All of the people that we’ve asked to take these actions understand why we’ve asked them to do it and are fully cooperating with us.”
The state epidemiologist says these 13 individuals were not traveling with a single organization and are from diverse groups who’ve all been in Western Africa. “Some people are natives of those countries who are coming here to visit relatives,” Quinlisk says. “Some of them are people who have been over there with aid organizations, missionary groups, who are helping these countries deal with this incredible tragedy and now they’re coming back home again.”
Ebola typically will exhibit itself within 21 days of exposure, so that’s how long the quarantines are to last. Most of the 13 people are a week or two in, Quinlisk says, and have another week or two to go before they’re considered clear of the virus. Ebola has killed some 5,000 people during this outbreak, most of them in Western Africa. Only one death is reported in the U.S., a man who caught the virus in Liberia.