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Principles for public health action on infectious diseases

Bebe Loff, Jim Black


The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) earlier this year led to some drastic measures in the name of public health, including the quarantining of patients and contacts, public naming of SARS patients, and threats of severe legal penalties for non-compliance. Some of these measures conflicted with basic human rights, and raise ethical concerns. We believe that SARS did present an unusual combination of features, but none of those features was individually unique or without precedent. Existing legal and ethical principles may be applied to each of the questions arising from such an outbreak, and authorities should be guided by those principles rather than short-term considerations.

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