US nurse allowed to travel freely in public in settlement with Maine

Kaci Hickox gives a statement to the media in front of her home in Fort Kent, Maine on Oct 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Kaci Hickox gives a statement to the media in front of her home in Fort Kent, Maine on Oct 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

BRUNSWICK, Maine (REUTERS) - Maine has reached a settlement with a nurse who was briefly quarantined in her home after treating victims of Ebola in West Africa, allowing her to travel freely in public but requiring her to monitor her health closely and report any symptoms.

The settlement, filed in nurse Kaci Hickox's home town of Fort Kent, in Maine's far north, keeps in effect until Nov 10 the terms of an order issued by a Maine judge on Friday.

Hickox returned to the United States last month after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and was quarantined in a tent outside a hospital in New Jersey for four days despite showing no symptoms before being driven to her home in Maine.

She sharply criticised the way both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Maine Governor Paul LePage responded to her case. Mr Christie and Mr LePage have defended how they handled it.

A handful of states have imposed mandatory quarantines on health workers returning from three Ebola-ravaged West African countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while the federal government is wary of discouraging potential medical volunteers.

The most deadly outbreak of Ebola on record has killed 4,951 people, all but a few in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"The governor was outspoken in his views on the case. He was speaking for people in the state that had real fear about the risks," said Mr Eric Saunders, an attorney for Ms Hickox.

"It's hard to deny the fear and the safety concerns. But at the same time, we have to bear in mind what the law and the science says."

The Ebola virus is transmitted in bodily fluids, such as blood or vomit, of people showing symptoms of the disease, according to medical experts. It is not airborne.

Representatives for both Mr LePage and the Maine attorney general declined to comment.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on Monday warned against "unnecessarily" strict restrictions on health-care workers, saying their efforts were critical to stopping Ebola's spread in West Africa.

"They are extraordinary people who are giving of themselves, they are risking their own lives," Mr Ban told a press conference in Vienna.

- North Carolina monitoring -

A patient being monitored in North Carolina for Ebola after arriving in the United States last week from Liberia has so far tested negative for the disease, state health officials said on Monday, adding that the results still need to be confirmed.

The patient, who arrived at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday and developed a fever on Sunday in North Carolina, will continue to be monitored in isolation at Duke University Hospital in Durham, officials said.

Additional testing to confirm the preliminary result will be conducted 72 hours after the fever began, the state's Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. The person, who was not identified, had no symptoms upon arrival in the United States and had no known exposure to Ebola in Liberia, the department said, adding that the patient would be evaluated for other possible causes of fever.

US health-care providers have been on heightened alert for potential Ebola cases, and officials in North Carolina said they had been working since the summer to prepare for the possibility of the virus being diagnosed in the state.

In Oregon, a Liberian woman hospitalised last week over Ebola fears has tested negative for the virus, a state health officer said Monday. Five other people who recently arrived from West Africa were being monitored, the officer said.

Some states have restricted the movement of people returning to the United States from the stricken West African nations beyond guidelines from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Only one person in the United States is currently being treated for Ebola, a New York doctor, who is in stable condition.