Dr. Ada Fisher: Police Powers Acts and Diseases

Published 2:19 am Tuesday, October 21, 2014

While a student at Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, the Police Powers Acts stood out to me. They were quarantine laws first passed in 1779  Boston to enact sanitary regulations and empower health officers to enforce them.

Up against the 4th Amendment illegal search and seizure, health departments were given the power to enforce a quarantine. Eventually, all states and localities took up the torch, appreciating that the safety of the many outweighed the wishes of the individual.

Faced with Ebola, where data on vector behaviors and spread seem to change minute by minute, public health officials, not government bureaucrats, must keep 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 nature of  infections to which we may be exposed. In Charlotte, several cases of mutated tuberculosis have entered through illegal immigrant traffic. Where TB tests are positive and the virus is endemic, such could cause major population problems.

I see basic public health measures neglected in favor of what often doesn’t tread on personal behavior. In colonial times, outhouses 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 insect netting limited the spread of Yellow Fever.

Part of foreign policy must deal with the largesse of this nation and what is being brought back to our shores from beyond our borders. Remember what happened to Native Americans whose exposure to Europeans, as well as blankets infected with smallpox, decimated that population. Today’s E coli likely invades from the lack of simple sanitary measures.

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.  This epidemic, which affected both my parents, was caught up in World War I and the media failed to adequately cover it, as may be happening now in our desire for compassion and political correctness.

The spread of the Ebola virus could spell doom if we aren’t willing to protect the mainland by closing all our borders, spending more on public health research and encouraging people to stay out of infected countries. If already there, insist that safe havens be established with citizen returns limited to specially designed planes where recirculating air does not hit other passengers, and receiving facilities designed to handle the disease burdens predesignated so essential data is collected.

Let us make sure the more than 3,000 troops being sent overseas are as safe as we can make them. Let us insist those entering this nation be screened as part of our public health efforts. This means students, missionaries, soldiers, overseas contractors and others at risk. This also must be a part of immigration reform.

Hopkins taught me the need for disease prevention and to follow the trail from entry to demise. And that politics be minimized when we diagnose, treat and manage diseases.

Dr. Ada Fisher of Salisbury is the N.C. Republican National Committee-     woman.