Police Powers Acts and Diseases

While a student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, as a constitutionalist, one thing really stood out in my Health Administration Studies: the Police Powers Acts.  These were, in fact, early 1700s quarantine laws passed in North America.  The first, passed under the USA constitution, was in 1779 where, in Boston, the Massachusetts General Court municipalities were given the power to enact sanitary regulations and appoint health officers to enforce them.

Up against the 4th Amendment regarding illegal search and seizure, health departments were given the power to enforce a quarantine.  Eventually, over a span of years, all states and localities took up this torch, appreciating that the safety of the many outweighed the wishes of the individual as disease forced suspension of their civil liberties.

Faced with Ebola, where data on vector behaviors and spread seem to change minute by minute, public health officials, not government bureaucrats must keep on the table their right to detain, isolate, and quarantine those thought to have contagious diseases.  Through a political filter of mistaken correctness, people don’t understand the true nature of all infectious vectors to which we may be exposed. 

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In Charlotte, NC, several cases of mutated tuberculosis have entered through illegal immigrant traffic.  Where TB tests are already positive and the virus is endemic (present widely in the population), such could also cause major population reinfection problems.  The enteroviruses attacking some children show interesting patterns of spread and E coli likely invades from the lack of simple sanitary measures.  Given the hardiness and resistance of the Ebola virus, allowing its introduction unprotected could kill some of our population.

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The unexplained spread of the Ebola virus without a better understanding of what is going on could spell doom if we aren’t willing to protect the mainland by closing our borders at both ends, spending more on public health research, and encouraging people to stay out of countries with the virus.  If already there, insist that internal national safe havens be established with citizen initial returns limited to specially designed planes where the recirculating air does not hit other staff or passengers and facilities designed to handle these disease burdens are predesignated so that essential data is collected.

As I watch populations die in mass constantly, I see basic public health measures neglected in favor of what often is too simple and doesn’t tread on personal behavior.  In colonial times out houses were built far away from drinking water, garbage pickup helped cure Scarlet Fever as much as penicillin, personal sanitation by hand washing dampened hospital infections and netting where flies were located limited the spread of Yellow Fever.  AIDS continues to flourish though it hasn’t hit the front page as often because we won’t publicly discuss the need to change personal behavior and engage in safer monogamous sex.

In 1918, over 21 million people died in the third largest plague, The Spanish flu epidemic, affecting populations worldwide.  550 people died in the US during a 16 week period from October 1918 to February 1919.  The media failed to adequately cover this as may be happening now in our desire for misperceived compassion and political correctness. This epidemic, which affected both of my parents, was caught up in World War I, and our efforts there impacted what we contracted and possibly some of their long term health outcomes.  Flu shots can help but don’t cure the problem.

A part of foreign policy must deal with the largesse of this nation and what is being brought back to our shores from ventures beyond our borders.   Remember what happened to Native Americans whose exposure to Europeans as well as blankets infected with small pox decimated that population. 

Let us make sure the more than 3000 troops being sent overseas are as safe as we can make them.

Let us insist that those reentering or entering this nation be screened as part of our Public Health efforts.  This means students, missionaries, soldiers, overseas contractors and others at risk.  This too must be a part of Immigration Reform considerations.

Let’s turn to those who have been part of these efforts to eradicate Polio, Small pox, and other biologics which, if not effectively dealt with, will be a reoccurrence of a weapon of mass destruction which affects civilization as we know it.  Wisconsin and Hopkins taught me much, especially about disease prevention and the need to follow the trail from entry to demise.  It also meant that politics be minimized in how we diagnose, treat, and manage diseases.

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