President Bush signed an executive order yesterday authorizing the government to impose a quarantine to deal with any outbreak of a particularly lethal variation of influenza now found in Southeast Asia.
The order is intended to deal with a type of influenza commonly referred to as bird flu. Since January 2004, an estimated 69 persons, primarily in Vietnam, have contracted the disease. But Dr. Keiji Fukuda, a flu expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said he suspects there are more cases.
The fatality rate among those reported to have the disease is about 70 percent.
Health officials around the world are trying to monitor the virus closely because some flu pandemics are believed to have originated with birds.
Mr. Bush’s order was described as a standby precaution, adding pandemic influenza to the government’s list of communicable diseases for which a quarantine is authorized. It gives the government legal authority to detain or isolate a passenger arriving in the United States to prevent an infection from spreading.
The authority would be used only if the passenger posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request, the Health and Human Services Department said.
The quarantine list was amended in 2003 to include SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people in 2003. Other diseases on the list are cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever and viral hemorrhagic fevers.
Quarantine and isolation were last used during the SARS outbreak in 2003.