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Isolation and Quarantine

Isolation and quarantine are two ways public health authorities can contain the spread of a disease. Both are common in public health, and both aim to control exposure to infected or potentially infected persons. Isolation applies to persons who are known to have an illness, and quarantine applies to those who have been exposed to an illness but may or may not become ill. Isolation and quarantine may be voluntary or forced by public health authorities.

Isolation: For People Who Are Ill

Isolation refers to the separation of people who have a specific infectious disease from those who are healthy to stop the spread of that illness. Isolation allows focused health care to people who are ill, and it protects healthy people from getting sick. People in isolation may be cared for in their homes, in hospitals or in designated health care facilities. Isolation is a standard procedure used in hospitals today for patients with tuberculosis (TB) and certain other infectious diseases. In most cases, isolation is voluntary. However, many levels of government (federal, state and local) have basic authority to force isolation of sick people to protect the public.

Quarantine: For People Who Have Been Exposed But Are Not Ill

Quarantine refers to the separation of people who have been exposed to an infectious agent and therefore may become infectious. Quarantine is medically very effective in protecting the public from disease.

States generally have authority to declare and enforce quarantine within their borders. This authority varies widely from state to state, depending on state laws. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, also is empowered to detain, medically examine or conditionally release people suspected of carrying certain communicable diseases.

For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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