Health Law

TB Case Shines Light on Quarantine Laws


The case of lawyer and tuberculosis patient Andrew Speaker highlights health officials’ quest for the legal tools they need.

Some states updated laws giving them the power to quarantine people following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. But others still have old laws on the books that deal only with specific diseases such as TB or yellow fever.

A federal statute gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the power to isolate or quarantine people with certain designated diseases, including TB. But the law does not have a provision for patients who leave the country.

Generally the government may only detain individuals suspected of carrying certain diseases if they are coming into the country. If a person suffers from a communicable disease, the government then has authority to restrict their movement from state to state.

A court order is needed to isolate a person with a disease, only after a patient ignores medical advice.

The CDC is helping develop a model law for states that would help them respond to public health emergencies.

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