In the past few weeks, a number of public health officials and hospitals workers have come under fire for making several mistakes in the handling of the Ebola virus, starting with a misdiagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient in the US to die from the disease, and a nurse who cared for him being be allowed to travel on a commercial flight while running a fever.
Dr. Charles N. Haas, engineering professor with Drexel University who has expertise in risk assessment for biological pathogens states another huge problem with authorities’ response to the Ebola crisis has been identified.
He published an article in the recent publication of the PLOS Currents: Outbreaks journal claiming that the recommended 21-day quarantine period for people harboring the virus is simply not long enough.
According to Dr. Haas, authorities have deemed that 21 days is an appropriate period for quarantine of individuals who were potentially exposed to the virus, thereby reducing risk of contagion. However, he adds there is no evidence of a systemic discussion pertaining to the basis for this timeframe.
In the paper, Haas argues that Ebola outbreaks in Zaire in 1976 and Uganda in 2000, along with data gathered from the first nine months of this current outbreak, there is up to a 12% chance that symptoms would not appear until after 21 days.
In an email sent to The Huffington Post, Haas says risk of spreading the virus is not at zero for someone becoming symptomatic after 21 days. In a separate paper published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, incubation for the Ebola virus could be longer than 21 days although roughly 95% of patients studied actually developed symptoms within the 21-day period.
When asked what the length of quarantine should be specific to the Ebola virus, Haas did not say. However, he did comment that this becomes a policy decision that balances various costs, as well as other factors like personal liberty. Some type of formal deliberative process involving quantitative modelers is needed, as well as input from economists and others who understand legal and regulatory considerations.
When asked for a comment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), none was provided. The Ebola virus is a growing concern for everyone, and as David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister said, it has become the biggest health threat to our world in a generation. As such, Cameron is calling on other world leaders to take responsibility in fighting this disease.