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Control of Communicable Diseases

Authority

  • Public Health Service Act, Section 361 (42 U.S.C. §264)
    • Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make and enforce regulations “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases”
      • into the states and possessions of the United States from foreign countries or possessions, OR
      • from one state into another.

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Introduction

Communicable disease prevention and control is focused on the way diseases spread under different circumstances. The crux of this field is focused on the monitoring, managing, preventing, and treating communicable diseases. Communicable disease experts in public health analyze data detailing the spread of certain diseases, work in an interdisciplinary capacity to develop best practices and guidelines for treatment and control, and implement those guidelines in the field. There are numerous Constitutional and statutory authorities that dictate how these experts must proceed, both to control the spread of disease and to ensure the protection of the rights of citizens who may be infected. 

The primary authority for the United States Governement to control the spread of communicable disease derives from the United States Constitution, specifically that of the Commerce Clause. This allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to isolate or quarantine people who may be ill, or who may have been exposed to an illness, by preventing them from entering into the United States or preventing their movement between states. This is an important power, but one in which many people do not fully understand. Although isolation and quarantine are often used interchangably, the two terms present different concepts: isolation is the separation of a person who shows signs of illness from others who are healthy; quarantine, on the other hand, is the separation of people who may have been exposed so that they may be monitored for an illness. The primary difference is that those who are isolated have shown signs of the illness that authorities seek to mitigate, while those who have been quarantined may still be well. These powers are, arguably, the most important tools public health authorities use to stop widespread proliferation of communicable diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, SARS, and Ebola.

Statutory Authority

  • Public Health Service Act, Section 361 (42 U.S.C. §264)
    • Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make and enforce regulations “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases” 
      • into the states and possessions of the United States from foreign countries or possessions, OR
      • from one state into another. 
    • This section also authorizes the apprehension, detention, examination, and conditional release of individuals with certain communicable diseases that are specified in an executive order of the President.
    • Communicable diseases for which individuals can be detained, examined or released under surveillance by federal public health authorities under federal regulations (42 C.F.R.. Parts 70 and 71) MUST be named in an executive order
    • Most recent Executive Order 13375 lists the following diseases:
      • Cholera
      • Diphtheria
      • Infectious TB
      • Smallpox
      • Yellow Fever
      • Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers
      • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
      • Influenza capable of causing a pandemic

Social Distancing

  • Social measures to decrease the frequency of contact among people in order to diminish the risk of spread from communicable diseases.
  • Possible Social Distancing Measures:
    • Isolation – separation of ill persons or groups
    • Quarantine – separation, restriction of movement of exposed persons
    • Quarantine of groups – separation, restriction of movement of people exposed to the same source of illness
    • Community‐wide quarantine (cordon sanitaire) – erecting real or virtual barriers around a defined geographic area
    • Closing public venues
    • Cancelling public events
    • School exclusion
    • Dismissing school

Ebola

Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is caused by an airborne bacterium that usually attacks the lungs. Not everyone infected with TB becomes sick

Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs)

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State Surveys

  • ASTHO Legislative StateTracking
    • ASTHO’s State Health Policy team tracks and analyzes legislation across the states to identify trends and emerging issues impacting public health and state health agencies
Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.