- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

Legal scholars say the case of a globe-trotting man infected with tuberculosis shows that quarantine laws are in need of an update, while federal authorities say they will examine whether more power is needed to stop an sick person from leaving the U.S.

The legal and policy implications of the case don’t stop there, however. Lawsuits against the infected man 31-year-old Andrew Speaker are possible if other passengers test positive for the illness, some legal scholars said. And the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing tomorrow to examine, among other things, why the Border Patrol failed to stop Mr. Speaker from returning to the United States from Canada.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Saturday that current quarantine laws focus on sick people who are moving from state to state and “were not exactly invented in an environment where we were dealing with international transfers,” such as the case of Mr. Speaker, who caused trans-Atlantic drama by traveling abroad for his wedding after the TB was diagnosed. He is cooperating with authorities and being treated in Denver, while the CDC tests dozens of people who were on lengthy flights with him.

“We are looking at the current statutes with perspective to determine if we need additional statutory authority to deal with a person who wants to leave the country as opposed to someone who wants to move from state to state,” Dr. Gerberding said.

Larry Gostin, who specializes in health law at Georgetown University, said that many state quarantine laws are “antiquated” and that the federal quarantine law, which dates back to 1948, doesn’t afford the person a hearing and could be ruled unconstitutional if challenged.

“From the federal situation, it’s as bad if not worse,” said Mr. Gostin, adding that if Mr. Speaker had challenged his quarantine which the federal government issued after he drove back into the U.S. over the Canadian border “he would probably win.”

That is unlikely because the federal isolation order has been lifted and Mr. Speaker is under a new isolation order by Denver health authorities.

Peter Jacobsen, professor of health law and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, agreed that the federal law and some state laws should be updated to afford a person a hearing but cautioned against hampering government from protecting the public.

A spokesperson for the CDC said that although the federal quarantine law doesn’t afford a person a hearing in the first 72 hours, a permanent quarantine order does allow for an appeal.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has new international health regulations governing illness and travel rules set to go into effect this month. And the CDC in 2005 proposed updated quarantine rules that have not yet been finalized.

Both Mr. Jacobsen and Mr. Gostin said Mr. Speaker could be liable for lawsuits if people test positive for TB. An infected passenger suing the government would be a much harder case to prove but “you can’t rule it out,” Mr. Jacobsen said.

The CDC has contacted 225 of the 275 U.S. citizens who flew with Mr. Speaker, a CDC spokeswoman said. Tests are ongoing, but the TB virus grows slowly, so travelers will have to be tested again later, authorities said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Speaker’s father-in-law, who works at the CDC researching TB and other bacteria, will be investigated as part of the overall review of the case, the CDC said Saturday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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