27 Oct 2014

Detained US nurse to sue for freedom

4:47 pm on 27 October 2014

A nurse forcibly detained in quarantine in the Untied States after treating Ebola patients in West Africa is to sue for her freedom in a federal court.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio said nurse Kaci Hickox is a "hero" who deserves better.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio said nurse Kaci Hickox is a "hero" who deserves better. Photo: AFP / Getty Images North America

Kaci Hickox, who became the first American health worker isolated under the new quarantine orders last Friday, claims she was made to feel like a criminal and that her compulsory quarantining was "inhumane" after returning from Sierra Leone.

The states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois have ruled that medics returning from West Africa be quarantined for three weeks, AFP reports.

The lawyer for Ms Hickox said the raises serious constitutional and civil liberties issues, given that she has so far tested negative for the fatal virus.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio admits the nurse was treated as if she had done something wrong, when she had not. However, he has given no indication he will ditch the 21-day isolation period intended to stop the spread of Ebola.

"This hero was treated with disrespect, was treated with a sense that she had done something wrong, when she hadn't; was not given a clear direction," Mr de Blasio told reporters. "We owe her better than that and all the people better than that."

Health authorities have also expressed concern that the strict new rules will discourage badly needed health workers from volunteering in the crisis in West Africa, where more than 4900 people have already died of the hemorrhagic virus.

President Barack Obama's administration has urged the governors of New York and New Jersey to reverse the quarantine rules.

Last Thursday, 33-year-old doctor Craig Spencer became the first confirmed case of Ebola in New York, after returning from West Africa. He remains in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

The 18-year-old was taken to hospital on Sunday.

The 18-year-old was taken to hospital on Sunday. Photo: AAP

First tests on woman clear in Queensland

Initial tests for the Ebola virus on an 18-year-old West African woman who emigrated to Australia from Guinea have proven negative, Queensland health authorities say.

The teenager was in home quarantine from her arrival 12 days ago until yesterday, when she was taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

She was met at the airport in Brisbane by health authorities as a precaution and has been monitored daily. She arrived with eight members of her family and all were placed in home quarantine.

Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young said the young woman reported a mild fever during a daily check-up as part of the close monitoring her whole family is undergoing.

Dr Young said the rest of the teenager's extended family remained in home quarantine but none had shown any symptoms. Dr Young said the teenager had not had any known contact with anyone sick with Ebola. "But she did come from an area that had a reasonably large number of cases, so that's why it was thought appropriate that she go into home quarantine," she said.

The patient has been isolated in the Brisbane hospital and will be tested again in two days' time.

Ambassador calls for scaled-up response

The US ambassador to the United Nations has criticised the level of international support so far for the fight against the Ebola outbreak.

Samantha Power (centre), US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama at a UN Security Council meeting.

Samantha Power (centre), US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama at a UN Security Council meeting. Photo: AFP

Speaking in Guinea on the first step of her tour of the three West African countries most affected by the epidemic, Samantha Power said some nations who offered backing had not yet "taken responsibility" in supplying aid and doctors.

Of the more than 10,000 cases of the virus and almost 5000 deaths, all but 27 of the cases have occurred inside Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Ms Power said the international response to the disease needs to be on an entirely different scale if the outbreak is to be contained.

The US has pledged 4000 troops to build hospitals and to train health workers in West Africa, some 600 of whom have already arrived.

The Pentagon said troops from the US 101st Division who arrived in Liberia 38 days ago had established two new laboratories and that a 25-bed hospital should be operational in the capital Monrovia by November.

NZ risk remains low

Health experts in New Zealand say the risk of an Ebola outbreak remains low in New Zealand even if Australia's response to the crisis has been chaotic, as the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has alleged.

AMA president Brian Owler said it was not known how much expertise the 20 caseworkers trained to deal with potential Ebola patients had.

But University of Otago professor Michael Baker said neither Australia nor New Zealand was faced with a high risk of an outbreak.

"This is not like a pandemic influenza or SARS, it is not a respiratory spread disease so I think that risk is very low."

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Mark Peterson said even if the response to the virus was poor in Australia the risk was not likely to be increased in this country. New Zealand is well prepared to care for Ebola patients, he said.

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