Thursday 18 January 2018

Nurse quarantined at hospital in Ebola fear 'held against will'

Nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital in 2014 because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa (AP)
Nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined at a New Jersey hospital in 2014 because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa (AP)

A nurse quarantined at a New Jersey hospital because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa is suing the state governor and health chiefs, saying they held her illegally against her will.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and a New York firm filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in Newark for Kaci Hickox.

It names New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former state health commissioner Mary O'Dowd, plus other health department staff.

The lawsuit seeks at least 250,000 dollars (£163,000) in compensatory and punitive damages.

Ms Hickox's lawyers say they hope the case will change a quarantine policy they claim was driven by politics rather than public health concerns.

The 34-year-old nurse was working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone during last year's Ebola outbreak, which killed thousands of people.

When she returned via Newark Liberty International Airport she was stopped, questioned and sent to stay in a tent outside a hospital despite having no symptoms of the disease, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms.

"I felt like I was being manipulated. I was literally in the dark," Ms Hickox, who lives in Oregon, said. "It was so hard. I felt completely alone and completely vulnerable and I was scared."

She said Mr Christie's decision to quarantine her was made out of fear and was politically motivated, but did not elaborate. Mr Christie, a Republican, was considering a run for US president and has since entered the race.

His office would not be commenting on the pending legal matter, a spokesman said.

Mr Christie said last year he was doing his duty to keep people safe. When asked then about a possible lawsuit, he replied that he had been sued lots of times.

"Get in line," he said. "I'm happy to take it on."

Ms O'Dowd said she had not received the lawsuit and referred questions to the health department, which said it did not comment on pending litigation.

Ms Hickox was the first person forced into New Jersey's mandatory quarantine for health care workers who came into contact with Ebola patients after Mr Christie and Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a stronger quarantine policy than the national standards. The White House and medical groups criticised their plan.

Ms Hickox, living in Maine at the time, said she was questioned in Newark by numerous people including a man who spoke to her "aggressively as if she were a criminal and was wearing a weapon belt".

While she did not have a fever when her temperature was first taken, she said a medical staffer using a temporal scanner told her she did have one. She said that was due to her being flushed from frustration but it led to her being taken to the hospital, escorted by police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Her lawsuit lays out a series of temperature readings elevated when checked with a temporal thermometer but normal when taken orally. A statement from Ms O'Dowd that night said Ms Hickox was being quarantined because she had developed a fever.

The next day, Mr Christie described her as "obviously ill" and she said her mother called her, afraid she might be sick because of Mr Christie's comment.

Ms Hickox twice tested negative for Ebola but was kept quarantined for more than two days. She then was driven to Maine, where she decided against following the state's voluntary quarantine.

A judge later gave her permission to go wherever she pleased as long as she continued daily health monitoring.

Press Association

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