The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) says that as of November 6, 2014, 13 travelers, who were in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea in the last 21 days, are now in Iowa and are being monitored.

Iowa Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

Twelve had low risk of having been exposed to Ebola in those countries, so they are being allowed to resume normal activities; however, IDPH has ordered them to self-monitor, meaning they are required to take their temperature twice a day and report their health status to public health. One person had some risk of being exposed to Ebola, and has been quarantined, meaning they have been directed to stay at home and take their temperature twice daily, including at least once with a public health official observing. At this time, there is no risk to public safety.

None of these travelers have any symptoms consistent with Ebola – which include fever, vomiting and diarrhea. IDPH Medical Director and State Epidemiologist, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk stated, “These individuals are being monitored closely and pose no risk to the public’s health. All individuals are fully complying and are cooperating with health officials.”

Public health actions, such as “quarantines,” are used when a person is well, but may have been exposed to a serious disease, and so may become ill in the future. With the disease Ebola, the incubation period is up to 21 days, thus the person will stay at home or be “quarantined at home” for 21 days.

“Isolation” is used when an individual is displaying symptoms of an illness; this has not been used yet in Iowa because none of these travelers have become ill or displayed symptoms. As more non-ill travelers return from West Africa, it is likely that more people will be directed to either submit to self-monitoring or placed into quarantine. Iowans should be confident every step has been, and will continue to be taken to protect the public’s health.

These public health actions are consistent with current national guidelines, are part of the standard practice of public health, and have been used in the past with outbreaks of SARS, measles, tuberculosis, and during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.