Boston Globe
August 28, 2005


Logan is among those getting new quarantine units

By Justin Gillis, Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- The government plans to more than triple the number of
quarantine stations at airports around the country and hire scores of
health officers as part of a broad plan to try to stop deadly
infectious diseases from entering the United States.

Ten new stations, at airports stretching from Alaska to Puerto Rico,
are already open or nearing completion, and some 50 new health
officers are undergoing training. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention plans to build an additional seven stations as soon as it
can get the money. Eight stations that have existed for years are
gaining staff, so that when the plan is complete, the country will be
blanketed by a network of 25 centers designed as a first line of
defense against a global disease pandemic.

In practical terms, the plan will not mean much change for
international air travelers -- at least in normal times. It does mean
that if a passenger gets sick on a flight, when the plane lands it is
likely to be boarded by federal health officers specifically trained
to recognize exotic diseases, not just by local emergency crews.

If a global pandemic looms, though, the plan calls for the centers to
play a key role in setting up a medical firebreak that would try to
keep the disease out of the United States. The stations would help
coordinate broad programs under which thousands of air travelers might
be subject to medical evaluation, or offered medical pamphlets and
advice, before being allowed to enter the country. Federal officials
emphasized that passengers would be quarantined only if there is
strong reason to suspect they have been exposed to a serious disease,
and then only long enough to rule out that possibility or get them
into medical-isolation wards at hospitals.

"We're not going to lock you up for days," said Jennifer Morcone, a
spokeswoman for the CDC, noting the negative connotation the word
"quarantine" once carried. "The goal here is to take care of

Many of the new centers are being housed temporarily in small offices
or suites, but eventually they will include examination rooms that
will allow health officers to isolate and evaluate a few ill
passengers at a time, according to the CDC. The centers will never be
big enough to quarantine entire planeloads of people, but would play a
coordinating role if such drastic measures ever became necessary.

Washington Dulles International Airport is getting a new center, with
some staff already in place and construction underway on a small
office suite. Other centers are opening this year at airports in
Anchorage, Boston, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Minneapolis, Newark, San
Diego, and San Juan. Quarantine stations have existed for years in
Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San
Francisco, and Seattle, now all those are growing.

The CDC aims to open at least seven more quarantine offices when it
can get the money, to bring the national total to 25. Cities at the
top of the priority list include Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, New
Orleans, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, but that list is not final and
other cities are under consideration.

The 50 staff members already hired more than double the CDC's presence
at the nation's airports. Leaders of most of the new and existing
stations met last week to develop operating procedures.

The plan is a response to rising fears about bioterrorism or a
potential pandemic of respiratory illness. For example, specialists
fear that a highly lethal form of influenza now circulating among
birds in Asia, if it undergoes certain genetic changes, could start
spreading rapidly among humans, potentially killing millions. In an
age of global air travel, such an illness could jump from foreign
countries to the United States within hours.

The plan is also an attempt to apply lessons from the 2003 scare over
a new disease: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Hundreds of
thousands of people around the world, including thousands in Toronto,
were placed in quarantine and entire cities in China were cordoned off
before that ailment was controlled. It never gained a foothold in the
United States, but a few cases came in on planes, and the CDC found
itself scrambling to notify potentially exposed passengers.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company