HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Creighton University School of Law

Monday, October 10, 2005

George Annas on the Flu Preparations

Effect Measure has posted the George Annas editorial from the Boston Globe concerning President Bush's response to the possibility of a flu pandemic.  Professor Annas is the Edward R. Utley Professor of Health Law and Chairman of Health Law Department at the Boston University School of Public Health.  In this editorial, Professor Annas details his concern with the President's military quarantine policy to protect us from the flu,

First, historically mass quarantines of healthy people who may have been exposed to a pathogen have never worked to control a pandemic, and have almost always done more harm than good because they usually involve vicious discrimination against classes of people (like immigrants or Asians) who are seen as ''diseased" and dangerous.

Second, the notion that ruthless quarantine was responsible for preventing a SARS pandemic is a public health myth. SARS appeared in more than 30 countries; they all reacted differently (some used forced quarantine successfully, others voluntary quarantine, and others no quarantine at all), and all ''succeeded." Quarantine is no magic bullet.

Third, quarantine and isolation are often falsely equated, but the former involves people who are well, the latter people who are sick. Sick people should be treated, but we don't need the military to force treatment. Even in extremes like the anthrax attacks, people seek out and demand treatment. Sending soldiers to quarantine large numbers of people will most likely create panic, and cause people to flee (and spread disease), as it did in China where a rumor during the SARS epidemic that Beijing would be quarantined led to 250,000 people fleeing the city that night.

I hope an advisor to the President will share this with him.  Thanks again to Effect Measure!! [bm]

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