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US nurse Kaci Hickox to be released after ebola quarantine

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A US nurse who protested against being kept in quarantine in New Jersey for two days despite lacking symptoms after caring for ebola patients in West Africa is to be released.

The move comes as scientists and federal officials clashed with state officials over quarantine policies.

Kaci Hickox, the nurse forced into quarantine on 24 October after arriving from Sierra Leone, was being flown on a private carrier to Maine, New Jersey’s health department said.

An agency statement said she had been symptom-free for 24 hours. Ms Hickox has said she never had symptoms and tested negative for ebola in a preliminary evaluation.

“We need those healthcare workers, so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go”

Anthony Fauci

She had called her treatment “inhumane” and was talking about suing. Ms Hickox had been the first person affected by New Jersey’s mandatory 21-day quarantine for medical workers returning from West Africa.

New York and Illinois announced similar plans, even though scientists say the restrictions go too far and could hamper global efforts to contain the outbreak.

“When she has time to reflect, she’ll understand,” claimed New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Mr Christie and New York governor Andrew Cuomo called federal health guidelines inadequate when they announced their quarantine plans, only to find themselves under fire through the weekend from members of the medical community and the White House.

“The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those healthcare workers, so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Anthony Fauci

The three governors said their policies permit home confinement, with twice-daily monitoring, for medical workers who have had contact with ebola patients but show no symptoms.

Maryland officials announced a similar measure: they will require anyone considered to have “high-risk exposure”, which they defined as known, unprotected contact with bodily fluids from someone infected with ebola, to stay home and have daily contact with health officials until they are proved to be ebola-free.

Mr Cuomo said quarantine tents at medical facilities, such as the one Ms Hickox was put in, would be used only in certain cases, for example if local home confinement is not an option.

New York will also pay for any lost compensation if the workers are not paid by a volunteer organisation for their time in quarantine, according to the protocols Mr Cuomo detailed. Three weeks’ salary for highly paid medical workers could represent an additional burden on hard-pressed charities.

The Obama administration considers the policies in New York and New Jersey “not grounded in science” and conveyed its concerns to Mr Christie and Mr Cuomo, a senior administration official told the Associated Press.

Dr Fauci insisted that any quarantine policy should be driven by science – and that science says people with the virus are not contagious until symptoms appear. Even then, infection requires direct contact with bodily fluids.

Ebola

Kaci Hickox

Close monitoring of medical workers for symptoms is sufficient, Dr Fauci said, warning that forcibly isolating healthcare workers for the 21-day ebola incubation period could encourage the spread of ebola by removing responders from the fight.

The state-imposed quarantines were announced after Dr Craig Spencer returned to his New York City apartment after treating ebola victims in Guinea. After a week he developed a fever and was admitted to Bellevue Hospital Centre. His condition remains serious but stable.

The World Health Organization said more than 10,000 people have been infected with ebola in the outbreak that came to light last March, and nearly half of them have died, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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