Scientists Say: Quarantine | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Quarantine

Sometimes when people or animals are sick — or might be sick — isolating them is part of the solution
Nov 5, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
warning doctor

To stop an illness from spreading, doctors may keep those exposed to the illness in a small area. This is called a quarantine.

Thiago Santos/iStockPhoto

Quarantine (noun, “KWAH-ran-teen”, verb, “to quarantine”)

This is a temporary restriction and separation of people or animals who have been exposed to a contagious disease. People or animals who may have come in contact with the illness are confined to a small area. While they are there, doctors wait to see if they become sick.

A quarantine isn’t just isolating someone with a disease. Isolation is used to separate people who are sick from people who aren’t. But quarantines separate out both people who are sick and people who have been exposed to a disease. That’s true whether they are sick or not.  The hope is that this prevents the disease from spreading.

Unfortunately, quarantines are difficult. People don’t like being told where they can and can’t go — even if they or their family members are infected with an illness. Governments may have to send police or military groups to help keep people quarantined. So quarantines are used only for diseases that spread very easily and are very dangerous. Colds may spread easily. But they’re not very dangerous, so a quarantine isn’t needed. Cancer, on the other hand, can be very dangerous, but it’s not contagious. A quarantine isn’t needed there, either. But for a virus like Ebola — which spreads rapidly and is very deadly — doctors might try a quarantine.

In a sentence

Scientists are looking for vaccines or treatments to combat Ebola virus, but quarantine is still the most effective way to stop its spread.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say here

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

contagious     An adjective for some disease that can be spread by direct contact with an infected individual or the germs that they shed into the air, their clothes or their environment. Such diseases are referred to as contagious.

Ebola     A family of viruses that cause a deadly disease in people. All cases have originated in Africa. Its symptoms include headaches, fever, muscle pain and extensive bleeding. The infection spreads from person to person (or animal to some person) through contact with infected body fluids. The disease gets its name from where the infection was first discovered in 1976 — communities near the Ebola River in what was then known as Zaire (and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

outbreak     The sudden emergence of disease in a population of people or animals. The term may also be applied to the sudden emergence of devastating natural phenomena, such as earthquakes or tornadoes.

quarantine     A temporary restriction on the movement of people (or animals) that have been exposed to an illness. The goal is to prevent a spread of their illness. If the illness is life-threatening and an epidemic is underway, police sometimes may be called in to enforce a government-imposed quarantine.

vaccine     (v. vaccinate) A biological mixture that resembles a disease-causing agent. It is given to help the body create immunity to a particular disease. The injections used to administer most vaccines are known as vaccinations.

virus     Tiny infectious particles consisting of RNA or DNA surrounded by protein. Viruses can reproduce only by injecting their genetic material into the cells of living creatures. Although scientists frequently refer to viruses as live or dead, in fact no virus is truly alive. It doesn’t eat like animals do, or make its own food the way plants do. It must hijack the cellular machinery of a living cell in order to survive.