Disease carriers can be isolated under state law
North Carolina law allows state and county public health officials to require anyone with a contagious disease to stay home or be charged with a misdemeanor.
"In a situation where there is widespread concern, sometimes people don't always think as clearly as they might otherwise," Orange County Health Director Dr. Rosemary Summers said.
Six years ago, Summers invoked the state law to quarantine a man who had developed Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. Isolating him prevented him exposing co-workers to the disease, she said.
"We did have a public health nurse monitor that situation on a daily basis," she said.
The man and his family cooperated with health officials, and Summers said her department always seeks cooperation before issuing an isolation order, which requires patients to comply with medical treatment and stay away from others.
Quarantine orders go beyond individual patients to isolate family members and others who have been in close proximity to those with the communicable disease.
"We typically have not done that because we get such good voluntary compliance," Summers said.
In some cases, patients who don't comply with isolation orders could be taken to a prison hospital to ensure proper treatment.