As the largest-ever outbreak of Ebola rages on in a cluster of West African nations, the planned evacuation of at least one infected American to the United States raises the question: Are we equipped to deal with the disease here?
The answer, in short, is yes—very well. A widespread Ebola outbreak here is “not in the cards,” the CDC director recently told reporters.
That’s partially because the United States has excellent infection control procedures and facilities. Among those facilities is a network of quarantine stations, where the CDC can legally detain anyone who may have been exposed to cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, SARS, new strains of flu, or—relevantly—viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.
Here’s a map showing where those quarantine stations are:
A Brief History Of Our Quarantine System
A yellow fever outbreak led to the country’s first quarantine center and hospital, set up in Philadelphia in 1799. In 1944, a new law gave the federal government the authority to quarantine people, a responsibility formally taken over by the CDC in 1967.
In the 1970s, according to the CDC, the number of quarantine stations was reduced “from 55 to 8 because infectious diseases were thought to be a thing of the past.”
But within the past decade, fears of bioterrorism after September 11 and the 2003 SARS epidemic prompted the U.S. to more than double the number of quarantine stations. There are now 20 scattered across the U.S., primarily at “ports of entry and land-border crossings where international travelers arrive.”
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