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Our Opinion: An ounce of prevention...

Monday, February 13, 2006

The avian (bird) flu has been in the news and on the minds of many all winter. Health care officials and governmental agencies have been busy preparing for the possible bird to human mutation and pandemic that could potentially cause thousands of deaths.

It's pretty scary stuff, so scary that many of us don't really want to even think about it, but someone has to. The mechanisms that will be necessary to deal with the epidemic need to be in place before the first case is diagnosed. Waiting until the deaths occur is as good as signing the death warrant for countless others.

While all sorts of high tech solutions are being pondered, some old ideas are also being revisited. One of the oldest methods of dealing with illness and stopping its spread is quarantine.

A quarantine sign is something that many of have never seen. A February 2004 measles outbreak in eastern Iowa caused three college students to be placed in quarantine. The students contacted the disease while traveling in India and then brought it back to the United States. They were placed in isolation and monitored by public health officials, according to information from the Center for Disease Control.

The students agreed to voluntary isolation, but the situation caused health officials to wonder: what would have happened if they wouldn't have agreed to be isolated?

The result was a state quarantine and isolation law (QIL) being passed in 2005. Now counties throughout Iowa are following suit.

The local QIL would be based on a state model for the law. It would include bioterrorism emergency planning and how to respond if the United States a pandemic influenza outbreak.

If Cherokee County doesn't approve a local QIL and there is an outbreak of infectious disease, the state QIL would take effect.

As is the case with many health issues, prevention is far better than treatment. We encourage the county to pass this measure to ensure that, God forbid, the worst come to pass, at least local officals would have a role in taking care of what would follow.